CASE CLOSED

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

Astros Jose Abreu, Jeremy Pena, Dusty Baker
Dusty Baker sure makes some head-scratching decisions. Composite Getty Image.
Here's why the Astros must be buyers sooner rather than later

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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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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