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.

Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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