Astros intervention: an honest conversation about the one luxury Houston can no longer afford

Someone has to say it. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado appears to be a really good guy. His teammates cherish him. He’s a clubhouse leader. He may have been the last Astro that Carlos Correa said goodbye to before signing with Minnesota.

Maldonado even has the best nickname on the team: “Machete,” for the way he cuts down would-be base stealers. Or used to, anyway.

But this is now. Maldonado is batting .086, with only three hits in the 12 games he’s started at catcher. That's starting to be a valid sample. With most of the Astros’ 1-8 hitters mired in a collective slump, Maldonado’s almost non-existent offense is a luxury the team can’t afford.

Jose Altuve is on the injured list with a hurting .167 average. Yordan Alvarez is swatting .245, Kyle Tucker is at .179, defending AL batting champ Yuli Gurriel is struggling at .218, and Aledmys Diaz is down to .167.

But we expect those guys to break out and get their batting averages up where they belong, where we expect, where they’ve been before.

Maldonado, not so sure. Last year he hit only .172 for the AL champ Astros. Now the Astros have a starting catcher with a .210 lifetime average, over the age of 35, in obvious decline, who has become, in Little League parlance, practically an automatic out.

Maybe it’s time, huh?

Maldonado has carved a 12-year big league career out of being a light-hitting defensive catcher with a strong accurate arm and command of calling a game. You dare to run on him and there’s a good chance you’ll be heading back to the dugout in shame. Base-stealing just isn’t a part of the game these days. The number of attempted steals per game is at a 50-year low. Maldonado’s greatest strength has been neutered. He can't gun out runners who aren't running.

As Jimmy Buffett alludes in A Pirate Looks at 40, Maldonado’s occupational hazard is his occupation’s just not around anymore.

With Altuve sidelined and most of the lineup hitting around or below their weight, it’s somewhat a miracle that the Astros are keeping their heads above water at 9-9.

Crunching Maldonado’s numbers doesn’t help. He’s played five years with the Astros and his average in Houston is only .188. His career on-base percentage is .289. Slugging is .346. In 12 years he has only 81 homers. Tuesday night, Maldonado went 1-4 and his batting average skyrocketed 21 points to .086. He’s not merely a weak hitter, no, he’s an historically easy out.

At various times in his career the New York Times called him “arguably the worst hitter in baseball,” and Sports Illustrated said, “he quite possibly could be the worst-hitting everyday player in MLB history.”

Maldonado has gotten worse since those criminal complaints were made.

Yeah, but he’s a defensive wizard, nobody’s better behind the plate, right? Twelve years, one Gold Glove.

Maybe it’s because “Maldy,” as announcer Julia Morales affectionately calls him, is a fan favorite, or because he’s been a cog in the Astros’ recent glory, or the pitching staff vouches for him, but there’s been no collective cry from fans to bench him.

Or perhaps this is the reason: as puny and ineffective as Maldonado has been at the plate, Astros second-string catcher Jason Castro, certainly not in Maldonado’s league defensively, amazingly enough has an even lower batting average, .053.

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans remain winless as the team comes up short against the Bears in Chicago. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Davis Mills made two costly mistakes with interceptions. The first one took points off the board and the second allowed the Bears to kick a game-winning field goal. These were the first two of the season and they highlight the need for near perfection from the offense.

2. Davis Mills claimed he made the correct read on the second interception. He said the tip is the reason the Bears intercepted it. I disagree. It looks like Roquan Smith read it like a book and might have been there anyway.

3. The other interception from Davis Mills wasn’t a good read either. Mills made a quick decision and rifled the ball to Brandin Cooks but the defensive back basically had his whole body between Cooks and the ball. The Bears made a nice play to come down with the deflection.

4. Davis Mills is not to be trusted in moments where most quarterbacks can move the football. The Texans failed to get into field goal range at the end of both halves. Mills has consistently failed in those spots this season.

5. There were some curious calls from Pep Hamilton. The Texans don’t have much talent, but Hamilton has had some unique moments. There was a screen to Pharaoh Brown on third and long. The team called a screen on third and one. There was a telegraph on third and short in the red zone.

6. Why can’t this team get the wideouts more heavily involved? Rex Burkhead shouldn’t be getting the second greatest number of targets. Brandin Cooks shouldn’t leave a game where he has less than 10 targets. It would be worth scheming the ball to Cooks a few more times than he is currently getting the ball.

7. Kamu Grugier-Hill is not playing well right now. The veteran just bounced right off a Bears running back at one point. He is also a liability in coverage. Christian Harris is hopefully back after next week but it would be worth seeing if Garrett Wallow has anything more to his game than the veteran.

8. The rushing defense was assaulted again. This time by running wideouts and a backup running back. Lovie Smith needs to look at playing time and the depth chart to see if something can get corrected here. This can’t keep happening earlier and earlier in games each week.

9. Jerry Hughes has been one of the best players on this team through three games. The veteran has been consistent and flashed more than a few times. A nice addition by the team this offseason.

10. Jalen Pitre is so damn good. He’s already one of the best players on this team. He had two interceptions today to go along with a sack. He wasn’t fooled on play action and nailed Justin Fields for the sack. When it felt like the Bears were getting whatever they wanted, Pitre darted in for a tackle in the backfield. He’s been awesome.

11. There must be some evaluation from the Texans. The team might need to ask if everything they’ve put together at this point is the right direction. There is a sound argument the team should be 3-0. Instead, the team is winless, and closing in on hopelessness


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