Looks like Astros GM just received some important trade market clarity

The Astros could use a left-handed bat. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Astros are in a very good place heading toward the All-Star break, with the two huge caveats being the health of Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez. Altuve down again with a second oblique injury (that makes one on each side) is a downer. If Alvarez actually is progressing well now from his oblique injury he should return (grab piece of wood and knock on it) in time for the Astros-Rangers series that starts July 24. Out of the break the Astros have a nine game road trip against no good teams (three at the injury-ravaged Angels, two at the lousy Rockies, four at the atrocious A’s) while the Rangers have a nine game home stand of three games apiece versus the Guardians, Rays, and Dodgers. Beware Texas Rangers: objects in mirror are closer than they appear. And the Astros appear close already.

Trade deadline shopping list

With Michael Brantley shut down again and quite possibly done as a viable big leaguer, General Manager Dana Brown has clarity on what to seek in trade before the August 1 deadline in addition to a starting pitcher. Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, and Corey Julks all bat right-handed. Replacing one with a quality left-handed hitter is the play. But replace which of them? From June 1 forward McCormick has hit .325 with a .948 OPS. Since Julks stopped swinging at everything he has made marked improvement. After drawing a woeful four walks over his first 166 plate appearances, Julks has drawn 12 walks in his last 80 plate appearances, batting .324 with a tremendous .425 on-base percentage. Meyers is nine for his last 55, a sad .164 average, and obviously has the least power of the three. So easy call right? Meyers would seem the obvious odd man out, but if the Astros still evaluate him as their best defensive center fielder, that is a factor. None of them are young (Chas is 28, Corey and Jake 27).

This flew under the radar

There was a moment at Minute Maid Park Wednesday that happily drew no reaction since hardly anyone in the crowd was aware of the backstory. The Rockies brought in relief pitcher Daniel Bard with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Bard retired Jose Abreu on a pop-up to first base then worked a one-two-three eighth inning. Minutiae in the Astros 6-4 win.

Daniel Bard is the pitcher who broke Jose Altuve’s right thumb with an errant pitch during the World Baseball Classic. Had Altuve not been sidelined by his second oblique muscle issue of the season, it certainly would have been attention getting had he faced Bard Wednesday. From an Astro fan tunnel-visioned perspective, many who made the connection would have booed Bard like he was Joe Kelly. Understandable purely from a venting standpoint, but knowing Bard’s story is worthwhile, albeit no consolation for his having completely unintentionally sidelined Altuve for the first seven weeks of the season. Bard wound up starting the season on the Injured List because of anxiety brought on by his injuring Altuve. Bard’s bigger career story is darn near unbelievable.

Bard’s Major League career got off to a good start. Over his first three seasons with the Red Sox as a relief pitcher Bard’s record was just 5-13 but his earned run average was a very good 2.88. He walked more batters than ideal, 76 in 197 innings, but nothing ridiculous. The Red Sox made him a starter in 2012, and whatever went wrong went way wrong as Bard came down with what many call “Steve Blass Disease,” essentially a professional nervous breakdown through which a pitcher basically loses control over where he throws the baseball. In 59 1/3 innings pitched for the Sox in 2012 Bard walked 43 batters. He was demoted to the minors for three months. In 2013 he pitched one inning over two April games and at 27 years old was sent back to the minors where his real disaster began. Bard’s next big league pitch would not come until more than seven years later.

Across three minor league stops in 2013 Bard pitched 15 1/3 innings and walked 27 batters. He made “Nuke” LaLoosh from the all-time classic baseball movie Bull Durham look like Greg Maddux. The Red Sox waived him, the Cubs claimed him then let him become a free agent. Somehow Bard hadn’t yet bottomed out. He signed to play in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Bard made three appearances, recorded exactly one out, walking nine, and hitting three batters, with four wild pitches mixed in. Somehow, the Texas Rangers signed Bard for 2014.

He was sent to their single-A affiliate and made four appearances. There over two-thirds of an inning he recorded all of two outs, walking nine, and hitting SEVEN. The Rangers released him in June 2014. Bard next threw a minor league pitch two years later. In 2016 again in “A” ball, Bard pitched three innings over eight appearances, walking 13, hitting five, with six wild pitches. In 2017, two minor league stops, nine and a third innings pitched, 24 walks, “only” four hit batters, seven wild pitches. The gruesome combined stats from winter ball 2013-14 through 2017: 13 1/3 innings pitched, 55 walks, 19 hit batters, 17wild pitches. ERA: 28.35. Bard retired after 2017.

In 2020 Bard decided to try a comeback. The Rockies signed him, called him up to the big leagues in July, and he has pitched for them since, and fabulously over the last season and a half. Despite pitching his home games in the by far worst pitchers’ park in MLB, Bard last season posted a 1.79 ERA and at 37 years old signed a two year 19 million dollar contract extension. His ERA this season is 1.82. Bard still walks too many batters (24 in 29 2/3 innings this year) but obviously not in a career-killing fashion.

Incidentally, Daniel Bard was born in Houston.

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The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

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