Truth, solutions and post-deadline drama ahead for Houston Astros

Truth, solutions and post-deadline drama ahead for Houston Astros
The Astros added some important pieces. Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

With the trade deadline in the rearview, time to reset where the Astros are heading to the regular season’s final two months. This Astros team is fully capable of winning the World Series. This Astros team is also capable of getting shutdown and eliminated in the Division Series. Their pitching is terrific. The best starters’ earned run average in the American League led by a gold standard ace in Justin Verlander, backed up by relievers who have combined for the best bullpen ERA in the AL. Sure the pitching could implode in October but there are no key factors to make one believe it will. Adding lefty Will Smith to the pen could be anything from a non-factor to a serious bonus.

The offense on the other hand is simply mediocre, 15th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams in runs scored per game. The offense could explode in October but there are no key factors to make one believe it will. This despite Yordan Alvarez’s superhuman season to date. The Astros reach the two-thirds mark of the schedule Friday night in Cleveland. Things can turn inside out in two months, and the very nature of postseason baseball means form charts routinely belong in a shredder. But this offense is shaky. Astro apologists might argue that offense is down all across the big leagues this year. Consider the following: In 2021 the Astros led Major League Baseball with a .267 batting average while the other 29 teams combined to hit .243. This year the Astros have fallen sharply to .240, while the other 29 teams have combined to hit… .243.

Alex Bregman has picked it up some but for the third straight season he is not a quality number three or cleanup hitter.

Kyle Tucker has been atrocious the last month. Worse than Martin Maldonado has been overall this season atrocious. After starting the season with just four hits in 46 at bats, Tucker was fabulous for over a month, the guy who emerged as a star level performer last season. Season opening stink mode has returned. July 3 through August 2 spanning 26 games, Tucker didn’t even slug .300 much less bat anywhere near .300. A slash line of .175/.243/.299 is a deep, foul funk.

After a rousing first seven weeks of his big league career, Jeremy Pena has been poor for over two months. Over his last 44 games he’s batting just .216. Managing the strike zone is a big problem as reflected by 48 strikeouts with just seven walks drawn over those 44 games. Better adjustment is needed to counter the league’s adjustments to him.

Yuli Gurriel has had a good couple of weeks. Well, Maldonado had a good July. It’s about full body of work and Yuli’s this season at 38 years old is not good. He should no longer be pretty much an automatically in the starting lineup every day guy. Certainly not after General Manager James Click’s trade deadline acquisitions.

Credit to James Click

Click did solid work given the Astros’ subpar farm system left him without the assets to plausibly reel in any of the biggest fish on the market. He did nothing spectacular like the Padres’ incredible haul and did not make an individual addition as potentially significant as the Yankees adding Frankie Montas, but Click added better players at two of the Astros’ three weak link lineup spots. Mancini’s best position is first base and he has clearly been better than Gurriel this year. Though unless Michael Brantley returns in form (seemingly less likely by the day) Mancini probably plays more corner outfield (played 13 games in the outfield this year, none before that since 2019) and DHs when Alvarez is in left than he plays first.

Christian Vazquez is an obvious upgrade over Maldonado and unless he plays himself out of the role Vazquez should obviously get the majority of starts behind the plate. Right Dusty? As your humble columnist noted weeks ago, Maldonado as defensive Yoda savant is overrated. Yes the pitchers like throwing to him. That’s true for a number of catchers, including Vazquez in Boston. Maldonado leads the league in passed balls and it’s myth that he wipes out opposing running games. “The Machete” has cut down the same percentage (25%) of would be base stealers this season as Jason Castro. Astros’ pitching earned run average is lower with Castro catching than Maldonado. It’s not as if Castro before injured was Verlander’s personal catcher hence skewing the numbers. If Vazquez performs at the level he did with the Red Sox this season, he is a good bottom of the order batter. Maldonado is not. This year’s Astros’ lineup is not nearly as potent as the 2017, 2019, or 2021 versions. It’s not complicated.

Center field remains in the at this point incapable hands of Jake Meyers, the should only play against left-handed pitching Chas McCormick, and I guess occasionally Mauricio Dubon. Hey, no one fields a team devoid of weakness.

And with all these offensive warts, the Astros are still on pace to win 103 games. Bring on October.

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Who's really calling the shots? Composite Getty Image.

Who is actually determining how much Jose Abreu is playing right now? Is it Joe Espada or is someone telling him from the top of the organization to play Abreu and not take him out of clutch moments?

Also, could Espada be sending a message to the front office by giving them a good look at how bad he is, and how much he's hurting the team with regular playing time?

ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham makes that case in the video above, but his radio partner Joel Blank isn't quite buying it.

Don't miss the video above for the full conversation!

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