Drama alert: all the intriguing backstories, stakes entering Astros-Twins matchup

Drama alert: all the intriguing backstories, stakes entering Astros-Twins matchup
The Astros head to Minnesota to play the Twins this Tuesday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

With the Astros opening a series at Minnesota Tuesday the biggest subplot is obvious. Carlos Correa (hopefully) plays against the Astros for the first time. Correa took a pitch off the middle finger of his throwing hand last Thursday. The fear was a fractured finger but it turned out to be just a bruise. Correa sat out the Twins’ three games over the weekend. That along with their off day Monday may have Correa ready to go. You know he’s had this series highlighted on the calendar, though it presumably won’t pack the emotional wallop of his return to Minute Maid Park when the Twins visit in August.

During the handwringing and whining over the Astros’ failure to re-sign free agent Correa, there was plenty of nonsense out there. Anyone can disagree with the decision, but Jim Crane’s fiscal discipline was smart before Correa signed with Minnesota, and certainly looks good so far with rookie Jeremy Pena (it’s still early!) outperforming Correa and doing so at a shade under 1/50th the price. As Correa rakes in 35.1 million dollars in 2022, Pena makes the upgraded Major League minimum salary of 700-thousand. The Astros’ best offer to Correa of five years 160 million dollars was never insulting. That’s 32 mil per season. Correa only topped that by taking the shorter term Twins’ offer after Correa and agent Scott Boras’ misread the market. Before the lockout the Tigers offered 10 years 275 mil, simple math says that was well below the Astros’ per annum offer.

Anyone can get a finger or hand messed up when struck by a pitch, Jeff Bagwell suffered a broken hand three consecutive seasons. But the truth is that for all the indelible memories Correa carved into Astros’ lore, he was neither consistently healthy over his time here nor consistently great. In 2017 Correa looked like a blossomed superstar on an early Hall of Fame track. He may have battled Jose Altuve for American League Most Valuable Player honors, but missed six weeks after tearing a thumb ligament. When he went down, Correa’s OPS was higher than what Altuve finished with in winning MVP. Correa of course returned to help the Astros win the World Series, and looked like a 23-year-old franchise player. Alas, in 2018 he was mediocre and missed a chunk of the season with a back problem. In 2019 he was very good when healthy but missed half the season injured. Remember the rib-fracturing massage? And while excellent in 2019 over the 75 games he played, Correa was not as good as 2017 Correa much less what Altuve was in 2016 and 2017, or what Alex Bregman was in 2018 and 2019. In the shortened 2020 season Correa was mediocre, before having a well-timed outstanding 2021. The belief of many that Crane and the Astros should have been willing to go 10 years 300 mil was crazy. That the Rangers signed Corey Seager to a ridiculous 10 year 325 million deal did not mean the Astros should have buckled. Who’s a bigger fool: someone who spends like a drunken sailor, or someone who follows suit of that drunken sailor?

If their avalanche of injuries is a season long problem for the White Sox, the Twins could win the otherwise soft American League Central. A Correa and the Twins vs. the Astros in a playoff matchup would be something. The Twins have amazingly lost their last 18 postseason games, the longest postseason losing streak in North American sports history.

The Astros and Twins enter this series at Target Field with identical 18-11 records. The Astros roll north off running the table on their seven game homestand. Since they were 6-8 the Astros have gone 12-3. Since a stumbling start of 4-8, the Twins have gone 14-3. Pitching has been the strength of both clubs. That’s reflected in the series opening pitching matchup. Justin Verlander throws for the Stros, he’s been terrific over five starts in his return from Tommy John surgery to the tune of a 1.93 earned run average. Twins’ rookie Joe Ryan has been even better through his five starts with a 1.63 ERA.

A note from the author

It’s not quite an elephant in the room, but one paragraph on why you are reading me on SportsMap Houston but not hearing me on ESPN Houston 97.5 FM. Essentially, an outside consultant was given license to make some changes. Replacing me was one of his changes. I wasn’t pleased with how it went down, but life happens. Fortunately, having had some success long enough to not have to do anything I don’t want to do, I am happy to restart this SportsMap Houston column to share some sports thoughts (primarily Astros these next few months). Thanks for clicking/reading.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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