HIGH-CLASS PROBLEMS

Here’s how facts don’t support a knee-jerk Houston Astros response

Astros Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Alex Bregman
The Astros will be just fine. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Why all the stressing out and hand-wringing over the Astros slow start? Sure, they’re behind the, this ain’t good, Texas Rangers. Yeah, Dusty Baker is up to his old odd decisions, like letting Martin Maldonado bat (and striking out) with the bases loaded and the Astros trailing late, and somebody tell Alex Bregman please don’t crash into walls to catch a foul ball with the Astros leading by six runs.

This is the price the Astros are paying for their incredible success over the last six seasons. Every loss is panic button time. You know the numbers, six ALCS, four World Series and two championships. Is it a dynasty? Yes, no? Either way, nobody’s done it better in recent years.

That’s the problem – sustained excellence is boring. Astros fans expect the team to win, and when they don’t, something’s wrong.

Nothing’s wrong. It’s business as usual. The rest of the American League teams are scuffling for a post-season spot. Not to minimize the regular season, all eternal 162 games of it, but the Astros recently have used the regular season to set up their pitching rotation for the playoffs.

Sure the 2023 Astros are a different team and that’s the thing about sports … you never know. All good things do come to an end eventually. But the Astros still have a Hall of Fame manager in Dusty Baker, their trustiest hitter Michael Brantley is on his way back, the greatest player in franchise history Jose Altuve is healing and who knows what’s up with Lance McCullers.

Alex Bregman is not going to hit .197 for the season.

Here’s how different this Astros team is: only one player on the current roster, Alex Bregman, wore an Astros uniform just six years ago when they won the 2017 World Series.

The Astros are young. Only six players on the Astros current 26-man roster had even played their first big league game in 2017. The Astros have six outfielders. The gristled veteran among them is Kyle Tucker. He’s 26. Only one infielder, Jose Abreu, is over 30.

So give the Astros a break and some time to figure this season out.

Charles Dickens wrote a book in 1860 that could have been about the Astros in 2023: Great Expectations.

The most recent baseball dynasty that compares to the current Astros belongs to the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2001 – a six-year run just like the Astros. The Yankees won five ALCS and four championships.

During that stretch, the Yankees won 100 or more games only one season. The Astros have won 100-plus games in four of their last five full seasons. That explains the frustration over 8-9 so far.

Not to worry, the Astros are averaging 37,386 fans per game at Minute Maid Park this season, up more than 4,000 per game over last year when things turned out sort of OK.

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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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