How Astros could be on a collision course with World Series preview
Off a nice two out of three series win over the Toronto Blue Jays, the Astros start their toughest road trip (by quality of opponents) of the season. They’re in Atlanta for three games with the Braves this weekend then it’s on to St. Petersburg for three with the Rays. The Astros are still carrying a losing record (9-10) but that is to permanently change sooner than later, though if sooner is to mean within the next week they have to win at least four of the six games on this trip. The odds don’t favor that but it’s well within the realm of possibility. They almost definitely won’t be settling into first place in the AL West by trip’s end. The surprising Texas Rangers are 12-6 and play host to the sub-pathetic 3-16 Oakland Athletics this weekend before hitting the road for three at less than imposing Cincinnati.
Could Astros-Braves be a 2023 World Series preview? As reasonable a guess as any. The Braves are humming along to the tune of a 14-5 record. In Sean Murphy, Matt Olson, and Ronald Acuna Jr. the Braves have three everyday players off to particularly outstanding starts. Frame of reference: all three have an OPS at least 100 points higher than Yordan Alvarez’s .895. In the offseason the Braves traded prospects to Oakland for catcher Murphy. He would have been a fabulous Astros get but their farm system didn’t have the goods to make a winning offer. Murphy has been tremendous out of the gate. Last year the Braves dealt with Oakland for first baseman Olson. He is excellent. Acuna is back to looking like one of the 10 most talented players in the game after last season getting his game back together following return from a torn ACL. The Astros will not face old pal Charlie Morton this weekend. “Ground Chuck” is 39 but not past any expiration date. Morton has a fine 3.22 earned run average through four starts.
Astros-Rays 2023 American League Championship Series preview early next week? As reasonable a guess as any. After tying the modern record for best undefeated start at 13-0, the Rays enter the weekend at 16-3. The Rays absolutely have had a soft early schedule. Nevertheless, leading Major League Baseball in most runs scored and fewest runs allowed is quite the one-two punch. The Astros have hit 19 home runs in 19 games. The Rays have hit 42 in their 19 games. The Astros have one shutout win so far this season. The Rays already have six. The Astros trail Tampa Bay by seven games. More than 85 percent of the regular season remains to be played, but the Astros certainly don’t want to be heading home from Florida next week nine or ten games off the pace for the best record in the AL.
Can't catch a break?
The sample size that is the season to date precludes any definitive judgment about it, but fact is fact: the Astros are undefeated in the games that Martin Maldonado hasn’t started this season (5-0). They are 4-10 when Maldy is the starting catcher. Maldonado has caught the last four games, which frankly is silly. Yainer Diaz hasn’t made an imprint, but he’s been given scarce opportunities. Diaz never set foot on the field in the Jays series. The Astros have played 19 games and Diaz has 18 at bats. Perhaps with more playing time he proves not up to it. Or maybe he grows with more playing time. Dusty Baker should be more actively finding out. It’s not like Astros’ pitchers all turn stupid and meltdown if Maldonado isn’t behind the plate. Maldonado’s movement behind the plate has deteriorated. He has two passed balls and has also seen stoppable wild pitches get past him. Playing Maldonado less now should keep him fresher for later in the season, and presumably the postseason. If wondering about catching prospect Korey Lee, he’s off to a slow start at AAA Sugar Land. He’s only played 14 games but certainly isn’t pounding on the door to get to the big leagues, batting .236 with a .591 OPS.
Another fact: The Astros are the only team in the American League team yet to win a one-run game. They are 0-3 in those decided by the slimmest of margins. The Giants are the only National League team without a one-run victory.
We're going streaking!
Pretty sure Joe DiMaggio isn’t stirring in his grave yet, but how about Mauricio Dubon sporting a 14 game hitting streak (one-quarter of the way to DiMaggio’s unapproached MLB record 56 gamer)!?! Not even Mrs. Dubon would have hoped he’d be batting .323 at this point. On the downside Dubon has just two walks with 62 at bats and only three doubles for extra base hits. That makes for a mediocre .709 OPS. But last year Dubon was horrific offensively, so mediocre is a big leap and has somewhat compensated for Jose Altuve’s absence.
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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: