ASTROS BLUEPRINT

Houston Astros' latest endeavor sounds like a home run for baseball fans

A new hotel is in the works near Minute Maid. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Astros owner Jim Crane says the team is ready to break ground on a major construction project that will include a hotel and entertainment complex across the street from Minute Maid Park as soon as the 2023 baseball season wraps up – hopefully with another World Series parade in downtown Houston.

AstrosWorld!

But another hotel? Another entertainment complex? More construction downtown? My first reaction was, how much more does Houston need? I remember when the Super Bowl was held in Houston in 2004, clubs and restaurants sprung up downtown practically overnight, only to disappear virtually the morning after. When it came to downtown development, the expression “less is more” turned out true. At least that Super Bowl.

I asked my contacts in government and the Houston welcome wagon, is this a good idea, building a hotel and entertainment complex next door to Minute Maid Park? Do we need it? Can we sustain it?

The answer every time was a resounding yes! For a couple of reasons: first, downtown Houston, coming out of Covid, is booming, leadership is creative and budget-minded these days, and most important, if Jim Crane is behind the idea, you can trust it’ll work. The guy’s got a track record.

“In 2004, the idea was to turn downtown’s Main Street into Bourbon Street. Is that what we really want? It was a misguided plan, the wrong philosophy, and businesses opened and closed in short order,” a source told me.

It was a different story when the Super Bowl returned to Houston in 2017. This time Houston saw the Marriott Marquis, a 1,000-room hotel complete with an iconic Texas-shaped swimming pool, open in time for the tourist onslaught. Also, Avenida Houston greeted downtown visitors with new restaurants and entertainment venues. Both the Marriott and Avenida Houston have continued to thrive long after the Super Bowl left town.

“We want our downtown to attract visitors while providing services for the growing number of singles and families who are making their home downtown. As we continue to host major events and conventions, there will be a need for more hotel rooms,” the source said.

The Astros’ plan to build a sprawling hotel and entertainment complex originally was discussed in 2021 but was put on hold due to Covid. Now Crane and the Astros are ready to come out swinging. Similar complexes operate successfully next to the baseball stadium in St. Louis, Chicago and other cities.

An Astros-themed hotel adjacent to Minute Maid Park is particularly intriguing. The lobby could be home to an Astros museum and team Hall of Fame. Rooms and restaurants could be decorated in honor of Astros legends – the “Nolan Ryan honeymoon suite,” or “Strech Suba’s Bullpen Bar and Grille.” There could be meeting space for autograph and memorabilia shows. There could be a broadcast facility for post-game interviews and analysis. And maybe one day, fingers crossed, a betting parlor like the Cubs have at Wrigley Field.

The Astros have a contract to play at Minute Maid Park through 2050 – the only long-term contract that doesn’t make Crane cringe. Anything that enhances the fan experience and generates revenue is good for the team and the city. I might even consider going downtown on non-game nights.

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Numbers don't lie. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros better be mindful. The Texas Rangers are better than the Astros right now because while the Rangers’ offense has been awesome, the Astros’ attack continues to rate as screamingly average. The Rangers have opened up a four and a half game lead over the Astros in the American League West. 27 games represent one-sixth of the regular season schedule. Over their last 27 games the Astros have gone 19-8. Extrapolated over 162 games that’s awesome 114 win baseball. Over those 27 games the Astros have gained zero ground in the standings on the Rangers.

While 19-8 is an impressive stretch no matter what, it is notable that within that stretch the Astros went 11-1 versus the A’s, Cubs, and White Sox, three bad teams. Winning five of six from the mediocre Angels was good, particularly beating Shohei Ohtani twice. The Astros lost two out of three to the Brewers, lost two out of three to the Twins, and need a getaway win in Toronto to gain a split with the Blue Jays.

Maybe the Rangers will be akin to the 1979 Astros, rising but not quite ready yet. July 4, 1979 the Astros led the Reds by 10 and a half games in the National League West. Reds’ pitcher and top 10 greatest pitcher ever Tom Seaver said no worries, the Astros would “fall like a lead balloon” in the second half. The Reds won the division. Here is one stat that points toward Rangers' slippage: as a team they are batting a preposterous .335 with runners in scoring position. No way that holds up all season. The Astros and Rangers have a four game series in Arlington starting June 30. That series looms as much more important to the Astros than one would have thought back in spring training.

Here's the catch

Dusty Baker this week offered his most elaborate explanation for his playing time split at catcher. It was largely balderdash. Thursday’s series finale in Toronto is Martin Maldonado's 45th start behind the plate. Yainer Diaz has 15 starts, Cesar Salazar three. Dusty talked of how there is more to the catching position than hitting. Fair point. His “points” deteriorated from there. It’s definitely attention getting that General Manager Dana Brown has publicly acknowledged talking with Baker about Diaz playing more. Good for Dana.

Let’s leave aside that Maldonado is a lousy offensive player, while Diaz brims with potential and recently has translated some of that potential into results. The Astros’ record is better with Diaz catching than with Maldonado. The pitchers’ earned run average is better when Diaz catches. The “Machete” blade has dulled. Maldonado has thrown out just six of 28 base stealers. Diaz has nailed seven of 18. Maldonado has three passed balls (and at least a couple more that were generously for him scored wild pitches), Diaz has none. All upside growth lies with Diaz.

Dusty sees it as tough to have rookie pitchers throwing to a rookie catcher. I guess if they stink that’s true. Especially dubious is Dusty’s “point” in having Maldonado catch Hunter Brown’s last six starts so that should Diaz get hurt, Maldonado wouldn’t have to start catching Brown with little familiarity. How about the inverse? Diaz catching all the other starters more so that should the approaching 37 years old Maldonado break down, Diaz is more up to speed. Oh, Brown’s earned run average over those six starts with Maldonado is 4.81. Over his first six starts, five of them pitching to Diaz, Brown’s ERA was 2.60.

Wednesday Dusty gave Alex Bregman and Jeremy Pena the night off. Nothing wrong with that. The 29-year-old Bregman had played in all 61 games this season to date, the 25-year-old Pena in 60 of 61. Meanwhile, 36-year-old season long disaster Jose Abreu was penciled into the starting lineup for the 60th time in 62 games. Abreu’s ended the night with his OPS at .534. He is the worst player in the Major Leagues getting everyday run. Thursday marks his 61st start in 63 games. Another spot where Diaz should be getting more time.

All eyes on Texas

Some more on those Rangers, who last season finished 68-94. They are now 40-21, and that with their desperate five year 185 million dollar contract dice roll on pitcher Jacob deGrom crapping out. deGrom finishes with all of six starts and now faces a second Tommy John surgery that could sideline him until 2025. One of the very few pitchers to ever pitch viably again after two Tommy John surgeries is Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers gave him 34 million guaranteed for two years, which so far is the best signing of the offseason. Eovaldi has been every bit as good as Framber Valdez.

Will he hold up is a very fair and very important question. Since 2015, only in 2021 has Eovaldi topped 125 innings in a season. He’s on pace for about 200 this year. Overall, Rangers’ starting pitchers have a lower ERA than Astros’ starters. The Rangers weakness is their bullpen. There is virtually no doubt they will strengthen it by the trade deadline. Their offense has had no weaknesses. Only one team since 1950 (1999 Indians) has amassed more than 1000 runs in a season. About 40 percent of the way through this season the Rangers are on pace for 1025. Going position by position, Yordan Alvarez remains the only Astro who would crack the Ranger lineup so far this year.

Reminder that there are no one game tiebreakers to decide division titles or wild card spots. Season series winners win out. Astros-Jays Thursday outcome decides the season series. It’s conceivable that could be very important come season’s end.

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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 a first video segment goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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