Here's how a curious formula restored order in AstroWorld

Here's how a curious formula restored order in AstroWorld
Mauricio Dubon has stepped up big for Houston. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

So all it took to rouse the Astros into playing stellar baseball was competition that got their attention? It’s not that simple but taking two out of three from the Blue Jays followed by a three game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta and then winning two of three from the Rays in St. Petersburg sure seems to have order restored in Astroworld. A weekend rematch of last fall’s World Series vs. the Phillies should hold their attention.

Who saw this coming?

Raise your hand if you had Mauricio Dubon having a 20 game hitting streak this season. Hand down liars! The Astros have one Hall of Fame second baseman in Craig Biggio. They have a future Hall of Fame second baseman candidate in Jose Altuve. Dubon is probably bound for the Honduran Sports Hall of Fame if such a thing exists but Cooperstown will never be calling him. Nevertheless, Mauricio Dubon now has a longer hitting streak than Biggio ever compiled or than Altuve has yet to compile. That sounds ridiculous but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Biggio’s career best hitting streak was an 18 gamer in 2001. Altuve hit in 19 straight during his Most Valuable Player Award-winning 2017 season. The longest hitting streak by any Astros’ second baseman belongs to Jeff Kent, 25 games in 2004. Amazingly, Dubon is within striking distance. He is ten games away from the Astros’ franchise record hitting streak, the 30 game stretch posted by Willy Taveras in 2006. Funny thing about Taveras is he was a poor offensive player overall in 2006. He hit .278, but rarely walked (just 34 walks in 587 plate appearances), and had next to no power which added up to a weak .672 OPS.

Dubon has been terrific, but Altuve need not bone up on Wally Pipp. If unfamiliar, in 1925 Pipp was the Yankees’ starting first baseman who missed a game because of a headache and was replaced by Lou Gehrig. Gehrig next missed a game 14 years later. There is zero question that as soon as Altuve is ready to rejoin the Astros he reclaims his position and Dubon goes to the bench. Well, unless a month from now Dubon’s hitting streak is intact and making Joe DiMaggio spin a little in his grave.

Things continue to go poorly for the other half of the right side of the Astros’ infield. Jose Abreu drags a .554 OPS into the weekend. Frame of reference: Martin Maldonado had a .600 OPS last season, .573 in 2021. Maldonado has finished a season with an OPS worse than .554 just once in his career (.520 in 2013). Abreu’s extra base hits tally is a paltry four, all doubles. It’s still early, but less so by the day. Counting last season and this, Abreu has one home run in his last 80 games played. He has 104 at bats and drawn four walks.

Magnificent Maton

Back to the subject of unexpectedly outstanding Astros with a tip of the cap to Phil Maton. He was mediocre last year (though it was his best MLB season to date) and had his season end ignominiously with a broken hand incurred by punching a locker after a poor outing in the 162nd and final game of the regular season. He was not missed at all in the postseason. No higher than sixth in the bullpen pecking order coming into this season, Maton has been near perfect thus far. He’s made 10 appearances, pitched 11 2/3 innings giving up just two hits, walking just one while striking out 13. Earned run average: 0.00. Like Ryne Stanek in the Astros’ pen, Maton is a free agent after this season.

Pirates handing out the booty

The Pittsburgh Pirates gave outfielder Bryan Reynolds a seven year 100 million dollar contract extension this week. The Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s been widely reported as an eight-year extension, but that’s wrong. It’s seven years on top of the contract he already had for this season, plus a 20 million dollar option for 2031 that carries a two million dollar buyout. Reynolds is more than two years older than Kyle Tucker, and not as good. He could have become a free agent after the 2025 season, which is when Tucker can hit the open market. The Astros refusal to this point to consider longer than seven years for Tucker is increasingly questionable. Reynolds got 100 million new dollars guaranteed. A seven-year extension for Tucker would likely take at least 150 million. Astros’ revenues dwarf Pirates’ revenues.

Crunching the numbers

Amazing if not significant stat: Dating back to last August the Astros have now won their last 17 “getaway” games, meaning the last game of a series before travel required to get to the next series.

Amazing and not wholly insignificant stat: The Astros remain undefeated in games Maldonado wasn’t the catcher, now 7-0. Maldonado is batting .143 with a .440 OPS, and this week added his MLB-leading third passed ball of the season. Still small sample size, but the Astros’ team ERA is lower when Maldonado is not the catcher.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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Justin Verlander is heading to the injured list. Composite Getty Image.

Astros ace Justin Verlander missed his start over the weekend due to neck discomfort, which had many fans concerned. The last Houston pitcher (Cristian Javier) to miss time with the same injury would end up out for the season and having to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like that will be the case for JV, and the team didn't anticipate having to put Verlander on IR. They hoped he would be able to start Thursday's game in Chicago.

But manager Joe Espada told the Astros flagship station on Tuesday that his progress “is slower than we expected.”

Fast-forward a few hours and JV is headed to the IL, with Nick Hernandez joining the club from Sugar Land.

Hopefully, this is just a short stint on the injured list for Verlander. Quite frankly, the Astros are running out of big league caliber starting pitching options.

One has to wonder, how many more injuries the team can sustain in 2024? The injury bug is biting hard, and the club is currently nine games behind Seattle in the AL West.

Up next

Framber Valdez takes the mound for Houston against the White Sox on Tuesday night.

The Athletic's Chandler Rome shares some possibilities the Astros might explore to replace Verlander in the post below.

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