How Michael Brantley's return could have polarizing consequences for Houston Astros

The Houston Astros received some good news this week with Michael Brantley beginning his rehab stint with the Space Cowboys and hitting a home run in his first game.

Astros general manager Dana Brown said recently that when Brantley is ready to play every day, he'll play every day. So if that's the case, Brantley and Yordan Alvarez will be in the lineup daily at DH and left field. Which means Chas McCormick can only be deployed in center field.

We also know that Dusty Baker starts Mauricio Dubon in center every time Justin Verlander is on the mound. And Jake Meyers is typically in center when Framber Valdez starts. So are we looking at a scenario where Chas McCormick is getting less playing time?

To be fair, Dusty Baker opted to go with Chas in center field once the playoffs started last year, but the Astros are in a different place this season. They are still trailing the Rangers in the division with about 40 games to go, making every game of the utmost importance.

And we haven't even addressed the Yainer Diaz implications. With Brantley and Yordan playing daily, Yainer will likely only be used as a catcher, which means he'll only start once or twice a week.

So what needs to happen?

Dusty Baker needs to commit to Chas McCormick as the everyday option in center, and Jake Meyers and Maurico Dubon only need to play the outfield when one of the regulars needs a day off. Chas McCormick is just too good of a hitter to not be a constant in the lineup.

Finally, what's the ideal batting order for the team once everyone is back to full health?

Be sure to watch the video above as we lay it all out!

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With the end of the regular season in sight, the Houston Astros host the Kansas City Royals on Friday night, coming off a huge walk-off 2-1 win against the Orioles.

Two players from the finale against Baltimore really stood out for the 'Stros. Jeremy Pena, who had a clutch double late in the game, and Cristian Javier.

Javier struck out 11 batters over 5 innings surrendering only one run, which was exactly what the Astros needed in possibly the most important game of the regular season.

Both Pena and Javier were critical pieces to the Astros title in 2022, and it looks like they're rounding into form at just the right time.

Javier's struggles have caused many to question who would be the team's third starter in the postseason, behind Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander. Let's put this to bed right now, it's Javier.

This should be everything you need to know. Let's start with Hunter Brown. Brown has given up 5 earned runs or more in 4 of his last 7 starts.

How about JP France? France has surrendered 5 or more earned runs in 3 of his last 5 games.

However, Cristian Javier hasn't allowed 5 or more runs in a start since July 3. Javier may only give you 5 innings, but that's actually pretty common for starters in the playoffs. Teams typically remove their starters before the third time through the order.

Prime Time Pena

While the power hasn't been there for Pena this year, he is swinging the bat much better of late. Over his last 30 games, he's hitting .325 while slugging .453. Pena may only have 10 bombs on the year, but he's getting on base and hitting plenty of doubles.

If these two can contribute at a similar level to last postseason, the sky is the limit for the 2023 Astros.

Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion!

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Listen to The Bench with John Granato and Lance Zierlein weekday mornings on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM.

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