Things continue looking up for the Astros

Astros roundup: Alvarez should be a shoo-in, Correa looks better than ever, and more

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Although last week ended on a sour note for Houston, they should still have their confidence high heading into a full week of games on the road. Between the offensive explosion that wowed everyone on Saturday, Yordan Alvarez powering his way into award conversations, to the team battling for the best record in the league, there's plenty of positives to break down for the Astros:

Alvarez should be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year

A little over two months ago, after months of buzz surrounding him with his minor-league success, we finally got to see the major-league debut of Yordan Alvarez. He wasted no time showing what he's capable of, hitting his first home run and driving in his first two runs in that first game on June 9th. Since then, he has not slowed down, and at this pace, it should be his award to lose.

One of the biggest arguments against Alvarez at this point is playing time. While his performance has been unreal, it has been over "just" two months, while other frontrunners have been with their teams much longer. Brandon Lowe, the leading candidate for most of the season, started his rookie campaign at the start of the season after being called up last August by the Rays. However, he has been sidelined by injury since July 3rd, allowing others like Alvarez to get into the mix.

Still, Alvarez's impact with his team so far is unmistakable. Comparing batters with at least 150 at-bats since his June 9th debut, here are some of the astounding numbers he has created (going into Sunday's games):

  • 51 RBIs, fourth, ahead of Mike Trout who sits fifth with 50
  • 17 home runs, tied for fourth-best with the likes of Pete Alonso and Cody Bellinger, and ahead of reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich who has 16 in the same time frame
  • .353 Average, fifth-best behind teammates Jose Altuve in fourth and Yuli Gurriel in second
  • .452 on-base percentage, second to only Ketel Marte
  • .743 slugging percentage, best in the league ahead of Yuli Gurriel in second with a .733 percentage
  • 1.175 OPS, best in the league and .037 ahead of Nelson Cruz in second

These aren't rankings against rookies or even just the AL; these are numbers against the entire league. So yes, while a cool-off could take him back out of the spotlight and lessen his chances, he has shown no signs of one coming. That means, if he can continue at this pace, I would expect him to be your AL Rookie of the Year.

Carlos Correa is back and looks better than ever 

Speaking of great stat lines over a limited sample size, Carlos Correa has looked great since returning from his rib injury. While it took him a few games to get going after returning on July 26th, if you look at just his month of August so far, you see that he's seeing and hitting the ball well.

Including Sunday's game where he made it back-to-back games with a home run, Correa has had a hot August going 13-for-35 with four home runs, 12 RBIs, and a .371 average for the month so far. Those offensive numbers don't factor in his defensive value, where he has been equally as impressive with several incredible plays and powerful throws to nail runners out at first base.

If he can stay in rhythm and play to his potential the rest of this year, he could be one of the many Astros in contention for postseason awards should they meet expectations and make it deep into the playoffs. Then, if he can bridge the rest of a successful 2019 season with a full, healthy 2020, he could be well on his way to earning either a significant extension contract with Houston or be one of the most sought after free agents when he hits the market at the end of 2021.

Who will be first to 100 wins?

As of now, it's a three-team race for the best record in the league: the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers. The Astros spent a short time as the best of the three before the disappointing loss on Sunday bumped them back a game behind the Dodgers, and tied with the Yankees.

The Astros have arguably the most manageable remaining schedule of the three, and the Dodgers and Yankees will play each other for a series towards the end of August which could put one of the two one or more games down the ranks. That keeps Houston in the driver's seat to not only be the first to 100 but end the season with the best record and control home-field advantage through the playoffs, which we've seen in recent years to be a massive difference for the Astros.

This offense is downright offensive to opposing pitchers

Sure, the loss on Sunday stings a little bit for Houston, but the story of the series with Baltimore was still the absolute pounding the Astros put on Baltimore in the middle game of the series. Houston's bats could not stop connecting with the baseball, resulting in the 23-2 win. Not only did Yordan Alvarez get a chance to show off with his three home runs, but it also displayed just how potent this lineup is.

Ever since Altuve and Correa had to miss some time and Alvarez was called up, many, including myself, were salivating at seeing this lineup healthy and playing well at the same time. We now see what that lineup is capable of, and a 23-run game is no surprise. Sure, they'll have their days where they struggle at the plate, and they won't dominate some of the more elite pitchers for 20+ runs, the cliché "there's no easy out in this lineup" is as accurate as ever.

Correa, as mentioned, has been a big part of that so far in August, but you've got George Springer still smashing from the leadoff spot, Jose Altuve on a terrific stretch since his return from injury, Michael Brantley in the middle of a batting title race, Alex Bregman instilling fear into pitchers to generate a ton of walks, and that's just the top four of the order. If you make it through them you've earned the right to face the phenom Yordan Alvarez, a surging Correa, then one of the league's hottest bats in Yuli Gurriel. That makes it a less-than-fun day to take the mound when you're going against the Astros.

Let's not forget about pitching

All this talk about the offense, and we haven't even touched on Houston's pitching. The Cy Young race is heating up between Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, with Cole having a chance to close the gap after a rough outing by Verlander on Sunday. Wade Miley has been great as well, lowering his season ERA below 3.00 and living up to expectations Houston had for him when they grabbed him this past offseason.

Zack Greinke will make his second start for Houston on Monday in Chicago against the White Sox and has a chance to move 2-0 with his new team, though they would like to see a bit of a better performance than in his debut where he allowed five runs over six innings.

Houston's relievers received a big lift this weekend with the return of Ryan Pressly, and will likely have Brad Peacock join their ranks soon as well. Roberto Osuna had a rare blown save on Sunday against the Orioles, but as long as he can get that out of his memory quickly and clean things back up for the push to the playoffs, he should be fine.

We are officially in the playoff push, and with a ten-game division lead going into mid-August, we may see Houston have plenty of time to fine-tune their roster and gameplans before the calendar turns to October. As has been the story for much of this season, when you put together all of Houston's plusses and compare them against the few and minuscule minuses, the Astros are still the team the league should be looking to beat in 2019.

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College football needs to call a timeout on the 2020 season.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 are set to announce, maybe today, perhaps in a few weeks, whether they will play football this fall.

Already the Ivy League, Mountain West and Mid-American Conference have canceled their fall football season for health and safety reasons amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Power 5 conferences – the Big Ten, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference – should get onboard and put their football seasons on hold, too.

While some elected officials without medical degrees say that coronavirus amounts to little more than sniffles for young people, healthcare experts argue that college-age people, while they do recover quickly and may not exhibit symptoms, do contract and spread the virus.

There has been a 90 percent increase of young people testing positive for the virus in the past four weeks. More important, health experts say they can't measure the long-term effects of the virus, which may include brain damage, heart disease and reduced lung capacity.

There is a simple solution to play or not play college football this fall – postpone the season to next spring, when health experts will know more about the disease. There possibly could be a vaccine by then, which would allow fans back in stadiums.

Many high-profile college players and coaches weighed in on the debate Monday, almost unanimously saying that the 2020 football schedule should be played on schedule, starting in a few weeks.

Players, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, adopted the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. In a tweet, Lawrence said that players would be more at risk for coronavirus if the fall season doesn't move forward. "We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football."

Lawrence added that, if the football season is canceled or postponed, players "will be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely."

Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN, "Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home."

Two points: University presidents should listen to only one group of people – healthcare professionals – when they decide whether to cancel or postpone the fall football season. Yes, players want to play during this pandemic. But players also want to play when they are injured or their brain was just scrambled by a vicious tackle. We applaud athletes who play with a broken leg. We see players with concussions plead with their coaches to put them back in the game.

As for the argument that players are more likely to catch the virus if they're sent home – who's sending them home? These are student-athletes. Students. Most college campuses will be open with students attending classes this fall. Major college programs like Clemson have 85 full scholarships designated for football. Colleges won't take away players' scholarships if the football season is canceled. Clemson's campus will open Sept. 21 for in-person classes.

ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy also said the season should be played as scheduled: "If they're (players) OK, then I'm OK." Texas governor Greg Abbott chimed in on the players' side. He said, "It's their careers, it's their health."

What "careers" is he talking about? There are about 775 colleges that play football. Only 1.7 percent of all those players will play in the NFL or another professional league. On Sept. 3, Rice University will play Army. It is unlikely that any of those players will have a career in football. However, given the excellence of academics at those colleges, players will have career opportunities in something other than football. The average NFL career is 2-1/2 years. Rice and Army grads can top that.

The NBA is completing its season in a bubble in Orlando, with players confined to their hotels between games. Only 22 teams are in Orlando for the lockdown. The Rockets organization sent about 35 people, including coaches, players and essential personnel to Orlando.

Baseball is playing its season outside a bubble. So many players are testing positive for coronavirus that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred last week threatened to end the season if teams don't do a better job of enforcing the league's health protocol. What's left is an unbalanced season. For example, the Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners have played 18 games, while the St. Louis Cardinals have played only five games. The ironically first-place Miami Marlins, which had 18 players test positive, have played only 10 games.

College football can't be played in a bubble. There are too many teams, with some having more than 100 players and 20 coaches. And no sport thrives on fans' excitement and marching bands like college football. Several colleges, including the University of Texas and Texas A&M, have stadiums that hold more than 100,000 fans. Even if college football could be played in a bubble, it would require isolating players from August to January, when they're supposed to be in class. I know … supposed.

This one is easy. For the health and safety of players, play the fall 2020 season in spring 2021.

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