Here’s some tasty food for thought leading into a telling Astros stretch

Here’s some tasty food for thought leading into a telling Astros stretch
The Astros have some tough opponents coming up. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Astros 6-7 record entering the season’s third week is mildly disappointing but nothing worse. Splitting the six games they’ve had with the Tigers and Pirates does not say juggernaut, but it’s no big deal. Even though the Tigers opened 2-1 against the Astros, 0-8 vs. everybody else. 162 game season, stuff happens. Minus Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve (despite Maurice Dubon’s surprisingly good start at the plate) the Astros can’t be the juggernaut they were in 2022. This still projects to be a very good team and remains the clear favorite in the American League West. As for the American League’s overall hierarchy, if the Tampa Bay Rays are going 162-0 this season, they will be very hard to catch.

The next two weeks do not remotely comprise a make-or-break portion of the Astros’ schedule, but if they don’t raise their level of play some, the Astros will look to be the most vulnerable they’ve been in years (with the exception of the short 2020 COVID season). The much improved Texas Rangers are in for the weekend, though they arrive having lost shortstop Corey Seager to a bad hamstring pull that will sideline him for at least a month. The Astros also will not face new Rangers’ ace starting pitcher Jacob DeGrom. After the Rangers George Springer and the rest of the very good Toronto Blue Jays are here, before the Astros hit the road for series in Atlanta against the high-quality Braves and then St. Petersburg against those thus far unbeatable Rays. They are all three game series. Anything better than 6-6 would be excellent and have the Astros over .500.

Let's put Jose Abreu under the microscope

It has been a lackluster start for Jose Abreu. It is a nice statistic that Abreu has reached base safely in each of his first 13 games of the season, just over the halfway mark to the franchise record Alex Bregman posted in reaching basely safely in each of his first 25 games played in 2020. Alas, also accurate (and definitely less nice) is that Abreu has not been a good player over his first two weeks wearing Astros uniforms. His batting average is .291, but it’s a lightweight .291 with just two extra base hits (both doubles) and a meager OPS of .666. Defensively, we knew he would not be as good as was Yuli Gurriel. We’re still in the “small sample size” stage of the season, but there are a couple of reasons for genuine concern about the Astros’ new 36-year-old first baseman. First, he’s 36. One never knows when Father Time will make his big move on a player. Second, his power decline could be permanent. Abreu had an overall fine 2022 season, batting .304 with 62 walks adding to a .379 on base percentage. His OPS was a very good .824, but his slugging percentage was a career low .446. Over the last 55 games he played Abreu hit exactly one home run, so despite batting .310 over those 55 games Abreu’s slugging percentage over them was a puny .386. Aledmys Diaz had a .403 slugging percentage last year.

The data on Abreu made clear that he struggled to handle plus-fastballs, think 95 miles per hour and up. Maybe he wore down over the second half as an everyday player at age 35. Still, as a quality hitter Abreu continued getting his hits though just singles and doubles. Well, the wore down element is not in play now. The “uh oh” scenario is that Abreu simply is not as quick to the ball anymore. If he has to cheat on fastballs, meaning start his decision making and swing earlier to catch up to good heat, Abreu becomes more vulnerable to breaking stuff. It’s still just two weeks of the season, but Abreu’s contract rate is notably down from his full-season 2022 numbers. His strikeout rate is up, his walk rate is down. Bad combo.

Let’s include a glass half-full aspect to Abreu’s sluggish start. Last year Abreu awoke May 16 with his batting average at .197, his OPS at .594. Very Maldonado-ish. Sometimes a slow start is just a slow start. With a 36-year-old player with some underlying warning signs, the phrase “it bears watching” applies.

Side note on Abreu framed very well I think by a reader/listener/Tweeter. It does seem an odd juxtaposition that the Astros are on record as strongly opposed to an eight years or longer contract for Kyle Tucker (or anyone else) when in Tucker’s case eight years would cover his age 26 through age 33 seasons, but they went three years covering the ages 36, 37, and 38 seasons of a guy who had shown some signs of decline.

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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 it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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Who's really calling the shots? Composite Getty Image.

Who is actually determining how much Jose Abreu is playing right now? Is it Joe Espada or is someone telling him from the top of the organization to play Abreu and not take him out of clutch moments?

Also, could Espada be sending a message to the front office by giving them a good look at how bad he is, and how much he's hurting the team with regular playing time?

ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham makes that case in the video above, but his radio partner Joel Blank isn't quite buying it.

Don't miss the video above for the full conversation!

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