Growing frustrations with Astros manager not lost on the national media

Are fans being too harsh when it comes to Dusty Baker? Composite Getty Image.

Daryl Morey was general manager of the Houston Rockets from 2007 to 2020. During Morey’s tenure, it’s true that the team never had a losing regular season record and won several division titles. But in the long run, the Rockets never won a Western Conference title or NBA championship while Morey called the shots.

Yet there was a saying around Houston media circles … “in Morey we trust.” Perhaps it was because Morey was a wisecracking quote machine, was always available for interviews, and knew how to work the room.

Now let’s have a look at Dusty Baker’s record as Houston Astros manager: three American League Championship Series appearances, two World Series appearances and one World Series championship (and aiming for another Fall Classic).

Yet nobody’s saying “in Dusty we trust.” In fact it’s open season for sniping and moaning about Baker’s stewardship of the Astros. Some sample comments from social media this past week:

“This Astros loss is squarely on Dusty Baker for putting out the stupidest lineup I have seen all season.”

“There’s a reason Dusty Baker has been fired four times in his career.”

“Another loss because Dusty Baker refuses to put our best lineup on the field.”

“Dusty Baker continues to set lineups like we’re in Week 2 of spring training.”

“Dusty Baker is the single worst decision maker in baseball. I’m actually speechless.”

“Goofy ass old man.”

Like I said, three Conference Championship Series appearances, two World Series appearances, one World Series title, and fans are still all over Baker’s butt. But why?

I’ll let Fox baseball play-by-play announcer Joe Davis explain why – straight from last week’s Fox national telecast of an Astros-Yankees game.

Davis said: “There may not be a wider gap in opinions of a player between a fan base and a manager than there is about Martin Maldonado. Astros fans are clamoring to have Yanier Diaz catch more. Dusty Baker is steadfast that Maldonado is his guy.”

You’ll never hear anything like that on a local Astros broadcast because Astros game announcers are employees of the Astros - and they’d like to remain employees.

But thanks to Fox and announcer Davis, now the whole country knows what’s been driving Astros fans batty all season. It’s Maldonado’s bat. He’s hitting an anemic .177 with lots of strikeouts and stranded runners. Diaz, a rookie, is hitting .276 with more walks, fewer strikeouts, more home runs and RBI than Maldy despite having fewer plate appearances.

Baker’s explanation: Yanier has trouble hitting lefties.

Astros fans might say that Maldonado has trouble hitting lefties, righties, pitching machines, tee ball, coed softball, whatever. His career batting average is .206 and he’s still having a down year.

For all the talk of Maldonado’s defensive wizardry, he’s leading the league in passed balls and the man they call Machete is below the league average in cutting down base stealers. So far he’s thrown out 13 of 67, or 19 percent, of steal attempts.

Diaz has no passed balls and has thrown out 10 of 28, or 36 percent, of potential base stealers in his limited action behind the plate.

But what about Maldonado’s genius for calling a game? Pitchers Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez love the guy.

Fans wonder, though, if Astros pitchers love watching Maldonado bat in late innings of close games and striking out with runners on base. As for calling a game, there’s no rule in baseball that says only catchers can call for fastballs and sliders.

In fact, when Roger Craig was managing the Giants to the National League pennant in 1987 he called pitches from the dugout. It’s not that rare, actually. You often see young or inexperienced catchers peering into the dugout for pitch selection. Maldonado could call the pitches from the bench.

Here’s one I’ll bet you didn’t know: One season late in his career Cal Ripken called pitches for some Baltimore Orioles pitchers from his infield position. Ripken knew opposing hitters’ habits and tendencies better than anybody on the O’s coaching staff.

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The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

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