How mounting evidence confirms these popular Astros narratives no longer add up

Dusty Baker sure makes some head-scratching decisions. Composite Getty Image.

Astros manager Dusty Baker is so maddening. I’d love to take one of those instruments that doctors use to look into your ears … just to see what’s going on inside Dusty’s head.

Baker continues to confound some fans – and most of the ones on social media – by making moves that defy common sense and most forces of nature.

And yet here the Astros sit, wracked with injuries and underperforming regulars, only two games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West .

Just one week ago, the Astros were six games back, with the Rangers fans in a frenzy to deliver the kill shot with four games at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

How’d that work out, Rangers fans?

The question that lingers: are the Astros making all this noise because of genius Baker? Or despite hard-headed Baker?

You don’t need to be a math wizard or an Ernst and Young numbers cruncher to read batting averages and box scores. Up to a few weeks ago, fans were lighting up radio call-in shows pleading with Baker to bench first baseman Jose Abreu. Eat the contract, they said. He’s killing rallies. He’s costing us games. And they had good reason to squawk about Abreu’s everyday presence in the lineup. The Astros’ big-money free-agent acquisition was hitting .211 with less power in the clutch than ERCOT.

Naturally Dusty stuck with Abreu, who flipped the switch and the power is back on. You realize that Abreu today has a higher batting average than Alex Bregman? Abreu is at .243. Breggy, .241.

A recent article listed the five Astros who might not be here after the trade deadline: Martin Maldonado, Grae Kessinger, Bligh Madris, Rafael Montero and Shawn Dubin.

You can’t argue with the list, but Maldonado is the one that makes Astros fans throw their arms up in frustration. OK, maybe Montero, too.

Last week, in the crucial series against the Rangers, Maldonado started and caught all four games. He went 0-13. He is now batting .171. To put that in perspective, of all the players with enough at bats to qualify for the title (3.1 plate appearances per game), the lowest batting average in MLB belongs to Kyle Schwarber at .185. Mike Muncy is hitting .195. Pete Alonso is down there, too, at .217.

But, Schwarber has 22 home runs, Muncy has 19 and Alonso has 25.

Maldonado has come to the plate 222 times this season. He’s batting .171 with five homers and 13 RBI, 19 walks and 69 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Astros rookie catcher Yanier Diaz is batting .267 with 10 homers and 21 RBI in only 174 plate appearances. Diaz played catcher and blasted two home runs against the Rockies on Wednesday.

Dollars to Shipley glazed donuts, Maldonado will be behind the plate Thursday night when the Astros host AL West rivals Seattle Mariners.

I hear it – Maldy is a defensive specialist, one of the best in baseball. Baker is a defense guy, and Astros pitchers love pitching to Maldonado.

Maldonado has caught 63 games this season. Diaz has caught 24 games.

You realize that Astros pitchers have a lower earned run average in games that Diaz has caught? Diaz has a stronger arm. His throws to second on steal attempts average 85.1 mph, Maldonado’s average 81.8 mph.

Runners have attempted 49 steals and Maldy’s thrown out only 9, or 18 percent of them. He has committed six passed balls this season.

Runners have attempted 24 stolen bases against Diaz and he’s thrown out 10, or 42 percent of them. He has absolute zero passed balls.

Pitchers prefer Maldy behind the plate? Well, maybe it’s time they listened to the advice of noted life coach Ric Flair who said, “If you don’t like it, learn to love it.”

There’s nothing not to love about watching your catcher round the bases after a 425-foot home run to save your W.

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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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