How critical key to Houston Astros season is hiding in plain sight

Yainer Diaz looks like the real deal. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

There was a time when I thought the Astros were permanently cursed at two positions. Shortstop and catcher were plagued for years with the stereotypical good defensive guys who couldn't hit their way out of a box made of Legos with a metal bat. Adam Everett, Julio Lugo, Jonathan Villar, Tony Eusebio, Brad Ausmus, and Martin Maldonado to name a few. I'm sure you guys can come up with a few more. Those were the guys that came to mind for me.

Along came number one overall pick and shortstop prodigy Carlos Correa. He changed the game when it came to those defensive wizards at short whose best hits were bloop singles they leg out to first base. Not only was his defense elite, his bat was as well. Power, average, and in the clutch. He did it all. I'm getting those same feelings about Yainer Diaz at catcher. At 24, he's tied for the youngest guy on the roster right now. In my opinion, he's been the best hitter on said roster not named Yordan.

That isn't a hot take because it's the truth! He's second on the team in batting average, second in slugging, second in OPS, tied for fifth in homers…all of this while being 11th on the team in total at bats (119), and 11th on the team in games played (37). You mean to tell me we can't find more playing time for this kid? I'd have him at DH until Yordan gets back. I don't care who's making what money and who's feelings may/may not get hurt. Yainer is in the lineup somewhere every single day unless he's hurt!

Can he stretch and scoop balls at first? How does he look catching up to bloop singles in left? What pitchers like their own personal catcher? The service Maldonado provides at catcher is immeasurable. He knows opposing batters better than they know themselves in some cases. The amount of info he provides the staff while navigating them in and out of the other team's lineup is insane. While I truly value his intangibles, I know he's a liability at the plate. What good is a guy like him in a game you lose 4-1 because you couldn't get more timely hits off a pitcher with an ERA that looks more like Steph Curry's career three point percentage (.428)?

There are 16 games until the All Star break. Nine of those games are against teams under .500 this season. The middle four games of that stretch are against the Rangers. The Astros remain 5.5 games behind the Rangers in the AL West. This collection of games is crucial for the stretch run. Diaz will be heavily counted on to continue producing. If Yordan isn't coming back until just before or after the All Star break, someone will need to step up. Diaz is doing that right now, but needs some help.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: one man can't carry a whole lineup. It would take an otherworldly effort, and some illegal stuff, to do so. If Diaz is helping carry the load in the lineup, the team requires their main stars to assist him in the lineup and on the bump. Some other young guys need to produce when given the opportunity. I agree that playing consistently helps. At what point do we hold these guys more accountable for not being able to step up when given the opportunity? We can blame Dusty Baker's lineups all we want. At the end of the day, nine men take the field every day. It's up to those nine to perform, no matter where they're placed in the lineup or how often they play. Diaz has stepped forward and said he's got next. It's time for others to do the same.

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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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