How 6 critical positions hold the keys to a Houston Astros repeat

Let's run it back! Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images.

With Hanukkah underway, Christmas arriving this Sunday, Kwanzaa starting Monday, and 2023 just around the bend, how about some Astros New Year’s resolutions. In no meaningful order…

Kyle Tucker: Decent numbers in the books when he wakes up May 1. In 2021 Tucker ended April batting .181 with his OPS a woeful .610. In no other month of the season was his OPS below .873. In 2022 his first month wasn’t quite as bad (though the rest of his season was not as good as the rest of ’21) but May dawned with the batting average .224 and OPS .685. If he doesn’t leave himself in the starting blocks the first month of the season, Tucker can be a serious Most Valuable Player candidate. Speaking of MVP candidates…

Yordan Alvarez: On September 15 to be in legitimate contention to win the Triple Crown. Alvarez played 135 games in 2022, meaning he missed 27. That’s one out of every six, and that’s why he fell short of 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in. If he plays 150 games, would .320/47/125 shock anyone? The Twins’ Luis Arraez won the American League batting title at just .316. Aaron Judge was by far the best player in the league. He set the new AL record with 62 homers while driving in a whopping 131 runs. It’s a good bet Judge equals neither of those numbers in 2023. In the last seven full seasons 47 is the lowest AL-leading home run total. In five of the last eight full seasons 125 RBI would have led the league.

Jose Altuve: Just keep it up. With his huge last two months of the 2022 regular season Altuve finished with his first .300 batting average since 2018. His .330 averages and 200 hit seasons are things of the past but Altuve remains a tremendous player ahead of his 33rd birthday arriving in May. Over the last four full seasons he has averaged 160 hits. At the end of 2029 (seven seasons from now) Altuve will be 39 years old. As frame of reference, though not nearly the player he was through his age 32 season, Craig Biggio remained terrifically durable to continue amassing numbers through the rest of his 30s. In his ages 33 through 39 seasons Biggio averaged 159 hits. If Altuve can do the same he’ll end 2029 with 3048 career hits.

Martin Maldonado: Top the poor hitting threshold named for a former awful offensive player also with the initials M-M. Mario Mendoza was an utterly pathetic hitting infielder from the mid-70s to the early 80s. In no season of his career did Mendoza manage an OPS of even .600. Maldonado’s 2022 OPS was exactly .600. The “Mendoza Line” is a .200 batting average. In five different seasons Non-Super Mario failed to hit .200. In 2021 Maldonado finished at .172. This year he jumped to .186. If he can produce another 14 point increase in 2023, .200! Mendoza finished as a .215 career hitter. Maldonado is at .209.

Lance McCullers: 23 regular season starts and good health through the postseason. The Astros’ starting rotation obviously took a big hit with Justin Verlander leaving for the Mets. McCullers made just eight starts in the first season of his five year 85 million dollar contract extension. The Astros obviously need more now. Why 23? That’s about three-quarters of a full and healthy season workload. There is simply no reason to count on or realistically hope for McCullers to be a durable season-long stud. Lance has made 22 regular season starts in three separate seasons. The only year he made more (28 in ’21) his arm fell off in the playoffs.

Astros Game Operations Decision Makers: As the Astros upgrade their already fantastic giant video screen “El Grande” to something even better, I think I can safely speak for most fans in telling the game ops folks that it’s long overdue to start acknowledging good plays made by the opponent by showing them on the big board. If watching at home you get replays of all plays of consequence (home runs, great defensive plays, etc.), but fans paying to be at the game don’t get those replays? That’s wrong.

Check out our new Astros podcast!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the (usually) weekly Astro-centric podcast I take part in with Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. We’re off this coming Monday and then will next go Tuesday January 2nd, before getting back to our regular schedule. It airs live at 3PM on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore.

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After another poor performance from former Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns' season is starting to look like an uphill climb. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is out for the year, and Cleveland fans aren't too pleased with the way Watson is playing, especially considering the massive contract extension he signed with the team. And we didn't even get to the off the field drama that comes with Watson.

However, Houston fans are invested in the Browns' season outcome as well, with the Texans holding the Browns' first round pick in 2024, and having sent their own first rounder to the Cardinals in the Will Anderson trade.

So each loss for the Browns, means a better draft pick for the Texans!

For Houston, it looks like they have their QB of the future in CJ Stroud. And he'll be on a less expensive rookie contract for the next several years, giving the Texans more cap space to upgrade the roster.

With all of this in mind, is it fair to question if the Texans dodged a bullet when Watson demanded a trade?

DeMeco Ryans vs. Lovie Smith

Plus, we're only two games into the season, but Lovie Smith's defense was much better (with a similar roster) than what DeMeco Ryans' defense has shown thus far, and DeMeco has the benefit of Will Anderson rushing the QB.

Are the struggles on defense more about the roster GM Nick Caserio has put together, or does this slow start fall on DeMeco?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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And listen to The Bench with John Granato and Lance Zierlein weekday mornings on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM.

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