With Astros spiraling, we're about to finally see first substantial shakeup of season


Astros Jeremy Pena, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker
The Astros are changing the batting order. Composite Getty Image.

Astros GM Dana Brown joined the Astros flagship on Wednesday and discussed several trending topics impacting the club right now.

Are they open to changing the batting order?

It's no secret Alex Bregman is off to another slow start. But how much longer can you bat a guy at cleanup who has 5 RBIs and no home runs on the season? When asked about it, Brown sounded open to the idea of moving Bregman until he starts heating up.

“Yeah, I think at some point Joe will make an adjustment there,” said Brown. Overall though, he sounds more concerned with the team's inability to hit with runners in scoring position. He's not happy with the quality of their at-bats in critical situations. He also made it clear that Espada is in charge of the lineup, just like Dusty Baker was before him.

That didn't take long!

The Astros lineup has been released for game two against the Cubs. Notice Bregman is hitting second and Yordan Alvarez is batting third.

Injury updates

Cristian Javier heading to the IL was a “cautionary” move with the team having so many days off. Brown said Javier missing only two starts felt like the smart move. Pitching him too soon in a cold environment like Chicago felt too risky. And Framber Valdez could return to the rotation after the series in Mexico City.

Jose Abreu can't be the best option at first base

Brown addressed the Abreu situation just like Espada did on Tuesday. They both talked about “mixing and matching” and how they've already done some of that this year. But Abreu was in the lineup again on Tuesday, and once again did not record a hit. You have to wonder if Espada and Brown are being pressured to start Abreu. But then again, Brown made it clear that the guys getting opportunities when Abreu sits, aren't coming through either. He's not wrong. Singleton is getting the start on Wednesday, and Dubon (who has the third-most RBIs on the team) is sitting once again.

Is there any accountability for players that don't perform?

Brown responded by saying, “I do think these guys are taking this seriously.” He also mentioned there are some players in the minors playing well, and at some point they'll have to make a move. “There's some urgency in that respect,” said Brown. This comment applied to both position players and pitchers. Which makes me think JP France better get things going. Dana said in passing several times that you're not giving your team a legit chance to win by allowing five runs in the first inning. Even if you do settle down over the next few innings.

Playing with a sense of urgency

Brown was asked if the team's approach would be the same if they were 5.5 games back with only 30 games left to play. This response was very interesting.

He said, “Dubon would sneak in there a little more” and they would play the guys that are more consistently producing. That statement made me feel much better. Brown and Espada see the same things we see. Dana pointed out that you try to give your best hitters a chance to get going early in the year. If that doesn't work, you look for other options. Clearly, the Astros aren't to the point in the season when winning each game is the top priority. The MLB season is a marathon.

“You can't start sprinting too early,” said Brown. If the Astros were in a better division, you wonder if they would feel differently. They keep saying they're only 5.5 games back in the division, which is true. But he never mentioned that the team is ten games under .500.

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(Photo by Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*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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