Here are some refreshingly candid solutions to treat Astros ails

The return of Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley can't come soon enough. Photo by Getty Images.

The most important variable in all our lives is health, so it's obviously a massive one for sports teams. The Astros likely feel like that they've had more than their share of reminders about that variable so far this season, since health problems have reduced the Astros as currently comprised to a rather average team. Their 16-15 record reflects that as the Astros hit the road for a three city nine game trip with stops in Seattle, Anaheim, and Chicago.

Losing 40 percent of the starting rotation to injury within 24 hours is a problem even for the best of ball clubs. Frankly, the Astros have to be holding their breath hoping that Luis Garcia isn't done for the season. A pitcher leaving in pain with an elbow injury is always ominous. At minimum Garcia will be down several weeks. Jose Urquidy's shoulder injury doesn't seem quite as scary but who knows. We do know he's out for at least the better part of a month. It is faint consolation that it's Urquidy and Garcia who are sidelined rather than Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier.

Is help on the way?

For several reasons the Astros have one of the weaker farm systems among the 30 MLB franchises. Even at this still early stage of the season it's no fluke that all of the Astros' minor league teams have losing records. They have no replacements in their system presently worthy of spots in a Major League starting rotation, although that doesn't preclude guys from rising to the occasion when opportunity grants one. Brandon Bielak is an organizational depth guy, not a number four starter.

After a couple strong outings at AAA Sugar Land, Forrest Whitley has been poor in his last three getting knocked around for 13 earned runs in 13 innings, leaving the formerly elite prospect's earned run average at 6.00. Maybe a J.P. France comes through. France is off to a good start with the Space Cowboys albeit over just 19 1/3 innings. France is not a potentially blossoming young stud. He's 28 years old with a track record of poor control.

With Lance McCullers still not close to returning (and not exactly a great bet to stay healthy after he does return), if the worst case scenario plays out for Garcia and/or Urquidy is to be out a while, General Manager Dana Brown gets his first real scrutiny since getting the job. Brown has to be in the market for a decent back of the rotation starter.

For all that, plenty of teams would swap their top three starters for Valdez-Javier-Hunter Brown. Many teams, including good ones, scuffle to get good performance from fourth and fifth starters. Still, the Astros' rotation and hence the team are not close to as good as last year's World Series Champions.

On the mend

On the brighter side, Jose Altuve sounds on schedule for return within a month or so. As well as Mauricio Dubon has done while filling in for Altuve, he has truly only been really good when measured against Dubon's own career beforehand. His productivity has not been close to what Altuve has delivered year in year out, with the exception of Altuve's dreadful short 2020 season. Dubon's 20 game hitting streak was fun and impressive, and his .303 batting average entering this weekend is obviously good, perhaps borderline stunning. However, Dubon has drawn a laughable three walks in 114 plate appearances and has minimal power. His .710 OPS is good for Dubon but not good for a lead-off hitter, and more than 100 points lower than Altuve's worst season since 2013 except for 2020.

Michael Brantley's return is imminent, and while expectations need to be reasonable for a guy who turns 36 in less than two weeks, adding a platoon professional left-handed hitter to the lineup should be a boost. Dusty Baker DHing David Hensley and Rylan Bannon over Yainer Diaz in recent days was head-scratching at least and absurd at worst, but it shines a light on the Astros' thinned out depth. Corey Julks has had some nice moments but is another member of the swing at almost anything club. 83 plate appearances, one walk drawn.

All those guys bat right-handed. Brantley probably adds little power at this point but the man knows his way around the strike zone. Save for 2016 when Brantley played in only 11 games because of his prior major shoulder injury, he last produced an on base percentage lower than .357 in 2013. So far this season, among the 10 Astros with at least 50 plate appearances only Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker have OBPs of .340 or better, and both those guys have tailed off lately. Batting Brantley second should also help Dusty grasp that it is daffy to continue slotting Jose Abreu in the cleanup spot most games until/unless Abreu breaks out of washed up mode, which has his OPS at a sub-feeble .531. Alex Bregman hasn't been nearly as bad as Abreu but Bregman batting .212 with a .683 OPS is another lineup problem.

It finally happened!

Perhaps it is forced irony that the week some of the roof caved in on the Astros' starting rotation, it was about darn time that the Astros had Minute Maid Park's roof open Tuesday for the first time all season. They lamely wasted multiple nights of gorgeous weather earlier this season. That home field advantage is greater with the roof closed is a dubious claim to begin with, absolutely dubious on a weekday evening in April or May.

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The Houston Astros haven't counted on their catchers to deliver much offensive production in recent years, with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado being their primary catcher for the last few seasons. But top hitting prospect Yainer Diaz is making a case to get more playing time behind the plate and at first, based on his ability to swing the bat.

Until recently, he hasn't been able to get any meaningful playing time. Even David Hensley, who was optioned to Sugar Land a few weeks ago, has more plate appearances than Diaz this season.

So how does manager Dusty Baker find more opportunities for Diaz? Should he use him more often as a DH, along with getting time at first base and catcher?

And what does that mean for Jose Abreu, Martin Maldonado, and to a lesser extent, former first round pick and Sugar Land Space Cowboy catcher, Korey Lee?

Plus, considering how good the Astros outfielders have been this year, does the team need to grab another bat before the trade deadline?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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