Astros fact & fiction: why these players’ spots should be locked

Astros number crunching. Composite Getty image.

The late Astro pitcher Joaquin Andujar once said “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is ‘You never know.’” Joaquin was quite a character. In baseball, you never know how a game or series will play out regardless of what past performance and obvious talent discrepancy suggest. Therefore, it was suboptimal though not wholly unpredictable for the Astros to settle for splitting two games at the team with the worst record in the National League (Colorado) while the Texas Rangers were sweeping three games from the team that had the best record in the American League (Tampa Bay).

As Hall of Fame Astro Craig Biggio said many, many times over his career, “That’s baseball.” So, the Astros open their four game series in Oakland Thursday night four and a half games behind the Rangers in the American League West.

The A’s are historic-level pathetic. 27 wins and 71 losses has them on pace for a 44-118 finish. Yet last month the A’s had a seven game winning streak. The Astros’ longest streak this season is eight. The Rangers’ is six, and current. The A’s did the Astros two solids Tuesday and Wednesday in beating the Red Sox, which has the Astros holding a two and a half game lead for the last American League Wild Card spot. The Astros are 6-0 vs. the A’s this season. They need to take out the trash in Oakland, while Astros’ fans can choke down their bile and root for the Dodgers to provide some help this weekend by beating the Rangers in their three game set in Arlington. Plausible upbeat Houston case scenario: The Astros wipe out the A’s four straight, while the Rangers lose two of three to the Dodgers. That would have the Rangers’ lead down to two games as they hit town for a huge three game series at Minute Maid Park.

Close call with Framber

Framber Valdez makes the start Friday night after a poor outing against the Angels last Saturday which ended with him leaving with what verrrrrrry fortunately turned out to be nothing more than a calf cramp. It better turn out that way. The Astros’ rotation is presently shaky with Framber, without him, it would be untenable. Hence, with the trade deadline inside two weeks away, General Manager Dana Brown’s chief objective is clear: trade for a starting pitcher.

Reminder that with the Astros’ minor league talent pool in the bottom quarter of the 30 Major League franchises, a raft of likewise contending teams can choose to outbid the Astros for any particular pitcher or “position player.” As noted in last week’s column, there is zero chance the Astros’ could put together a winning offer for Shohei Ohtani should the Angels’ come to their senses and put him up for trade. Always remember, rumors and click bait stories are overpriced at a dime a dozen this time of year. With the deadline approaching, there have still been no other moves of consequence since the Rangers added Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen. The Rangers presumably aren’t done. Ideally for the Astros the Rangers don’t make another bolstering deal until after they leave Houston next week. Valdez pitching Friday has him on schedule to start the Wednesday Astros-Rangers finale.

With Yordan Alvarez getting some game action in with the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, barring a setback, he should be in the Astros’ lineup against the Rangers Monday. Jose Altuve answering that bell doesn’t look so promising. When the Astro Al-phas (Alvarez and Altuve…work with me!) are both back, the batting order isn’t a given, but eight of the nine primary guys in the lineup should be obvious (Dusty…?). Until/unless he slumps, the erupting volcano that is Chas McCormick has locked down an outfield spot alongside Kyle Tucker. Yordan plays left or is the designated hitter with Corey Julks or Jake Meyers slotted accordingly. Martin Maldonado should become the number two catcher behind Yainer Diaz.

Here's a batting order: Altuve, Alex Bregman, Alvarez, Tucker, Jose Abreu, McCormick, Diaz, Julks/Meyers, Jeremy Pena.

Pena is a flat out offensive liability these days, who should be batting ninth with Maldonado out of the lineup. Pena is three for his last 32 at the plate, and before that, no one was confusing him with Bo Bichette. Counting the March 30 and 31 games as part of the season’s first month, Pena’s numbers have gotten worse every month this season. He hit one home run in June and has one thus far in July. His last double was June 9. Let me type that again. His last double was June 9. Since June 1 Pena’s OPS is a hideous .545. Maldonado’s OPS for the season is .539. It’s been a very disappointing follow-up campaign to date for the 2022 postseason superduperstar. So much so that Pena would not start for the majority of Major League teams right now.

Maldonado vs. Diaz truths

Slash line (batting avg, on-base %, slugging %): Diaz .267/.287/.487 Maldy .168/.244/.295

OPS: Diaz .774 Maldy .539

Pitchers’ ERA with catcher: Diaz 3.52 Maldy 3.83

Vs. base stealers: Diaz thrown out 9 of 24 (37.5%) Maldy thrown out 9 of 54 (16.7%)

Passed balls: Diaz 0 Maldy 7 (most in MLB)

Won-loss record in starts: Diaz 13-8 (.619) Maldy 38-33 (.535)

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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-ish Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets such as

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