Here's what to expect from the Astros new-look bullpen

Here's what to expect from the Astros new-look bullpen
Kendall Graveman is having a career year. Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images.

Astros' General Manager James Click did fine work this week in trading for two boosts to the Astros' very shaky bullpen in acquiring Kendall Graveman from Seattle and Yimi Garcia from Miami. Graveman especially. He has pitched well over his head this season but that's what "career" seasons are about. A 0.82 earned run average is obviously attention grabbing. The mere eight walks he's issued in 33 innings is a big part of that and a sight for Astros' fan sore eyes that have watched just about all their relievers not named Ryan Pressly struggle with control. 2021 Graveman is a clear upgrade over Ryne Stanek as the number two weapon in the Astros' pen. One question to be determined about Graveman is how he fares under the pressure of big late season and postseason games. He's yet to throw a big league pitch in one.

Garcia from the Marlins has been more or less average. Average is an upgrade over the work of Stanek, Joe Smith, Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Brandon Bielak, Bryan Abreu, and Brooks Raley.

Click gave up nothing of consequence to acquire either guy. Abraham Toro could develop into a decent regular with the Mariners, but other than occasional power he didn't show much over parts of three seasons with the Astros. The occasional power does include one moment many Astros' fans will remember. Justin Verlander sure will. A couple of years ago in Toronto it was Toro's top of the ninth two run homer that provided a 2-0 lead ahead of Verlander finishing off his third career no-hitter. If the Astros have Carlos Correa to replace after this season, it is unlikely that Alex Bregman slides over to shortstop. So other than via injuries to others Toro had no path to starter status here. He should have a shot in the Mariners' weak lineup.

The balance of the top six in the Astros' lineup is amazing. I'm thinking unprecedented. None is among the top 10 in the American League in OPS but all are in the top 20. Yordan Alvarez enters the weekend at .867, Yuli Gurriel .861, Jose Altuve .860, Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker .856, Carlos Correa .849. Alex Bregman should rejoin the party next week.

Football time in Houston

Texans' training camp is underway with Deshaun Watson on the team and on hand, and that's about it. He's not taking part in full, with new Head Coach David Culley offering silly explanations about Watson missing all the offseason work. Culley is in a tough spot but come on. As if a few OTA practices were a big deal. Mandatory minicamp was so important the Texans cancelled it. Plus, the Texans aren't installing a new offense. Coordinator and Watson endorsee Tim Kelly was retained. We'll see how this plods forward.

Don't know if Texans' GM Nick Caserio sent Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers a thank you note but he should. Pouty Rodgers wanting wide receiver Randall Cobb back with the Packers gave the Texans a millions of dollars saving escape hatch from the absurd contract Bill O'Brien signed Cobb to before last season. The Texans had to send the Pack three million to close the deal, so the Texans take a five million dollar dead money charge on Cobb this season. That's a lot better than the more than ten million dollar cap figure Cobb carried if here. The Texans are in all likelihood going to stink this season, so taking all the dead cap hit this year (especially with it cut roughly in half) is a boon ahead of 2022.

Rockets draft reaction

Jalen Green in Rocket Red. Or white, silver, black, powder blue, or whatever else they plan to wear. The 19-year-old Green was widely considered the most explosive offensive talent on the board this year. At number two overall, Green is the Rockets' highest choice since Yao Ming. Green is the Rockets' first first round pick period since 2015 (Sam Dekker). Qualitatively if Green becomes what Yao did they nailed it. Quantitatively it's a disappointment if Green doesn't go beyond Yao. The only other time the Rockets made the second overall selection was 1970. The San Diego Rockets drafted Rudy Tomjanovich. That worked out fairly well. In all the Rockets' haul was four first rounders. Six foot 10 Turk Alperen Sengun is an interesting choice, but what Jalen Green becomes ultimately defines the Rockets' Class of '21.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Simone Biles had every right to make the decision to drop out of Olympics events if she felt doing so best for her mental health. That needs to be respected and treated sensitively. However, is it so unfair to wonder if Biles had been performing up to her previous standards would the pressures have felt so intense and would she have dropped out? Seems a chicken or egg situation.

2. Possible World Series preview this weekend with the Astros at San Francisco for three. The Giants have been shockingly good this season. Best record in Major League Baseball and on pace to win 101 games good, leading the mighty Dodgers by three games in the National League West.

3. Greatest ever Giants: Bronze-Andre The Silver-Lawrence Taylor Gold-Willie Mays

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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