Getting late early: How critical series against Twins could define Astros season

Getting late early: How critical series against Twins could define Astros season
The Astros host Carlos Correa and the Twins this weekend at Minute Maid Park. Composite Getty Image.

The late, great Yogi Berra once said “it gets late early out here,” referring to having to deal with afternoon shadows when playing left field at Yankee Stadium late in his career. We can adapt that Yogi-ism to the Astros’ season. There are still more than a hundred games to be played, but the clock is ticking on the Astros’ getting their you-know-what together to the level of a playoff team. It could be getting late early here. Coming off a bad but not catastrophic loss of three out of four games in Seattle, the Astros remain within reasonable striking distance at five and a half games back of the American League West leading Mariners. Thursday wasn’t quite a must win but having gotten it for the difference between five and a half vs. seven and a half back is significant beyond the literal two games difference in the standings.

The Mariners’ starting pitching is presently obviously better than the Astros' starting pitching, though quality starts from Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti this week (albeit against Seattle’s feeble lineup) offer some hope. Seattle’s offense is inferior, but could improve via trade if the Mariners’ skin-flinty ownership authorizes spending some money to trade for a bat or two. The Mariners’ payroll is roughly 100 million dollars less than the Astros’. Seattle handling Houston to win five of the seven meetings so far this season means the Mariners take the tiebreaker by winning just two of the six remaining games. It’s unlikely right now that the Astros finish ahead of the second place Texas Rangers in the AL West much less overtake the Mariners.

Still, the Astros roaring from behind and winning this sub-mediocre division absolutely remains in play. If that is not to happen, that leaves pursuit of one of three wild card spots. Two of them are already extreme long shots. The Astros are a whopping eleven and a half games behind the Baltimore Orioles and nine and a half back of the surprising Kansas City Royals. Minnesota presently holds the third spot and that is why if the Astros fall on their faces this weekend, another Yogi-ism, “it’s not over ‘til it’s over,” will ring a bit hollow. The Astros are six and a half games back of the Twins as Carlos Correa and teammates visit Minute Maid Park for three games. Getting swept wouldn’t mean it’s quite last rites time, but gathering some priest phone numbers wouldn’t be unwise. Winning at least two of three from the Twins isn’t exactly essential, but the Astros can’t be dropping many more series at home this season, especially versus teams they hope to catch.

The offense needs a spark

Joe Espada continues to shortsightedly start 34-year-old Jose Altuve at second base virtually every game (55 of 57 games). All players will have both ebb and flow along the way, but within the last month Altuve has lost 60 points off of his batting average and more than 200 points off his OPS. He’s frankly been terrible for most of May with a .215 average and .549 OPS over his last 22 games. In conjunction with not hitting well, Altuve having drawn just two walks over those 22 games sticks out as well. Altuve has never struck out more than 91 times in a season. He is on pace to strike out 127 times this year. I repeat from my last column: Mauricio Dubon should get one start per week at second base.

If I told you that a healthy Yordan Alvarez would have a month in which he drove in only four runs, no way you’d have believed it. Maybe not even if I told you that Yordan had to bat right-handed for the month. Yet here we are. May expires Friday night and Yordan sits with a puny four runs batted in. A notable part of it is Altuve getting on base so infrequently. A more notable part is Alvarez’s woeful season numbers with runners in scoring position, .167 batting average with just 8 hits in 48 at bats. One way to get an RBI is to homer. Yordan has connected for just two dingers this month.

On the brighter side Jose Abreu returned to raise his batting average from .099 all the way to .111! Yeah.

So Altuve and Alvarez have both been substantially subpar this month. Alex Bregman’s season numbers upticked some this week but remain lousy, Yainer Diaz has done a bang-up Martin Maldonado impression at the plate for about six weeks now, and the Astros are 5-12 in one run games. They have already lost five games they led after seven innings (they lost only six such games all last season), yet they are still only five and a half games out of first. Pretty amazing. Pretty lucky. The Astros start the weekend on pace to finish 71-91. At the Mariners’ current pace, the Astros would need 87 wins to take the AL West. That would require a .590 winning percentage the rest of the way, which over 162 games produces 95 wins.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Jose Abreu has been released. Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images.

It's official, the Houston Astros have released first baseman Jose Abreu after almost two disappointing seasons.

The Astros announced the news on social media Friday afternoon.

Abreu had the ninth-worst OPS in baseball in 2023, and recorded a .124 batting average in 2024.

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