Here's why we may already have our answer(s) to all-consuming Astros debate

Are Astros fans ready to move on from Dusty Baker? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

An old baseball saying popped up in Season One of Showtime’s acclaimed series Billions:

“Towns fire managers, owners just give them the bad news.”

So with the Astros struggling to gain ground on the faltering Texas Rangers, the surging Seattle Mariners sweeping a gut-crunching series against the Astros at Minute Maid Park, and the Astros’ divine right to the post-season suddenly in jeopardy, is it time to wonder?:

Will Dusty Baker be back as Astros manager next year?

And if towns really do fire managers, do Houston fans want Dusty Baker back as manager?

It’s the No. 1 Astros topic on sports talk radio and social media: what on Earth was Dusty Baker thinking when he (fill in the blank)? It could be a bewildering batting order or playing players who the fans don’t think should be playing.

Fans, spoiled by the Astros wild success in recent years, now question his every decision. The villagers are restless.

Baker for his part appears willing to fall on his sword, specifically a machete, in defending his moves. When a talk host recently brought up fans' discontent with Baker, the manager exposed his claws, “if (a manager) listens to the fans, pretty soon he’ll be sitting with him.”

The fans’ No. 1 indictment against Baker is the manager’s head-scratching, defiant insistence on playing Martin Maldonado at catcher most games, while rookie Yanier Diaz either finds time as fill-in first baseman or DH. And when regular first baseman Jose Abreu, another inexplicable Baker favorite, returns from injury, fans might see Diaz struggle for playing time. It will not make the townsfolk happy.

The numbers are well known and don’t need repeating here. In every statistical category, Diaz outshines Maldonado by a wide margin. Diaz has become a fan favorite. Meanwhile you can practically hear the oxygen leave Minute Maid Park when Maldonado steps to the plate with runners on base in a close game.

Simply, Diaz is a promising, slugging rookie while Maldonado is one of the worst hitters in Major League Baseball and a below-average defensive catcher. Baker doesn’t see it, but fans light up the listener board: you don’t need to know loft angles and pop times to see that Diaz is a better baseball player than Maldonado.

Last weekend, Maldonado spoke at an Astros players meeting and later told the media,

“This is a slap in the face and a wakeup call … we’re just giving it away.”

Does striking out with runners in scoring position, batting a miserable .176, leading the league in passed balls and inability to throw out base stealers count as giving it away?

If you listen between the lines of general manager Dana Brown’s interviews, it sounds like he’d like to see more of Yanier Diaz behind the plate. But in his next breath, he defers that Baker is the boss.

Baker tells fans that Maldonado’s talent at calling a game more than makes up for his hitting deficiency. Also some of the Astros starters prefer, in one case insists, having Maldonado behind the plate. The numbers don’t buy it.

Justin Verlander apparently made it part of his deal to return to the Astros that Maldonado be his catcher. Verlander’s earned run average in three starts for the Astros is 4.50, more than a full run higher than it was with the woeful New York Mets earlier this season.

Framber Valdez loves Maldonado behind the plate. Valdez’s earned run average in his last 10 starts is 5.37. That number would be higher if not for a no-hitter against the Cleveland Guardians.

Cristian Javier’s earned run average this month is 5.59, despite the Astros somehow winning three of his four starts. His season mark of 9-2 is one of the most misleading records in baseball. Javier may find himself in the bullpen if the Astros make the post-season.

The undeniable ace of the Astros’ staff has been J.P. France with his innings-burning 9-4 record and 2.75 earned run average. Guess who catches, and calls the game, for most of France’s starts? Vive la Yanier Diaz.

So what’s your verdict? Does Baker return as manager of the Houston Astros next season?

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