THE PALLILOG

Evaluating depths of Astros challenges, opportunities for redemption

Evaluating depths of Astros challenges, opportunities for redemption
The Astros are down, but not out. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

How badly the Astros have stunk truly is stunning. Yet it could be worse than the eight games they find themselves behind the American League West leading Rangers. The Astros have stunk like rotten eggs sprayed by a skunk. At 13-24 starting their series in Detroit this weekend it’s as simple as that until or unless they prove otherwise. It’s been a total team effort. The offense, defense, and pitching have all failed miserably.

If it takes an unusually low bar of 86 wins to get into the American League playoffs this year, the Astros have to go 73-52 the rest of the way to get there. That’s a .584 winning percentage, which over a full 162 game regular season schedule produces 94 wins. Can the Astros win at that rate the rest of the way? Impossible, no. Improbable, yes. And again, that’s to get to 86 wins. The final AL Wild Card spot last season went to Toronto which won 89 games. The Astros need 76-49 to reach 89. That’s a .608 winning percentage which over 162 games yields 98 wins. Good luck with that.

For those desperately seeking and/or rightfully clinging to some hope:

The 1978 New York Yankees woke up July 20 14 games out of a playoff spot. They won the World Series.

The 2019 Nationals began their season 19-31. They won the World Series.

While they didn’t win the World Series, the 2005 Astros got there after beginning their season 15-30.

Struggles at the plate

At the end of his third full season in the big leagues Alex Bregman was on an early Hall of Fame track. His stats through that third season were better than the first three full season numbers of Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Chipper Jones, merely three of the top five third basemen of all time (Eddie Mathews is definitely one of the other two, Wade Boggs may be the second). Schmidt, Brett, and Jones obviously went on to legendary careers.

Bregman at 30 years old looks as washed up as Jose Abreu did at this point last season. That is not saying Bregman is finished, but it makes stark the reality that Bregman has been pitiful and shows near zero signs of getting going. He was inept through April, finishing with a .216 batting average and .577 OPS. That was the good part of his season. In May he’s been “Breggy Bum,” batting average .138. Season numbers going into Detroit: Batting average .198, OPS .534. Context time. Over his last three seasons with the Astros, paragon of offensive lousiness Martin Maldonado posted a .593 OPS.

About as shocking as Bregman’s offensive coma, for nearly the last month Yordan Alvarez has been abysmal. Maybe naptime ended Thursday with a home run and a double. Over his last 24 games Yordan has hit more like Canelo Alvarez. If Canelo had both hands tied behind his back. Batting average .187, slugging percentage .341. Brad Ausmus's career slugging percentage was .344.

That Jon Singleton has slotted in as the primary first baseman is suboptimal. Good for him that he popped a couple of home runs to help the Astros win two games on their last homestand and launched a rocket at Yankee Stadium Thursday, but that the 32-year-old Singleton is the best they have and a good bet to be a strong producer going forward this season? Sheesh. Meanwhile Jose Abreu plays shuffleboard and bingo and takes swings against rookie ball pitchers in Florida.

On the bump

The Astros definitely have had injury misfortune in their starting rotation, but they also boxed themselves in. They obviously overrated their pitching depth, and that is not 20/20 hindsight. Justin Verlander is a cinch Hall of Famer but his last fully healthy season was 2019. Planning on him as a workhorse ace as opposed to a solid starter was a fingers crossed deal. Verlander looked very 41 years old as the Yankees pasted him Tuesday night.

Neither Framber Valdez nor Cristian Javier was good the second half of last season, so inking them in as money for two of the top three spots in the rotation was at least as much hope as expectation. Believing J.P. France was fine as the fourth or fifth starter cut against his 2023 fade down the stretch and his minor league background. Banking on Hunter Brown making a big leap in his second season had no solid basis. Spencer Arrighetti clearly does not belong in a legit big league rotation. Props to Ronel Blanco who has been unsustainably excellent.

Jose Urquidy’s earned run average was 5.29 last year so getting him back will be no surefire big upgrade.

Counting on Lance McCullers to pitch well and stay healthy is like counting on James Harden to come up big in an NBA playoff elimination game. By the time McCullers starts his season (allegedly) some time after the All-Star break, the Astros will have paid him more than 25 million dollars since his last pitch in a big league game. Being stuck with McCullers’s contract of 17 million dollars per season for 2025 and 2026 obviously made the Astros reluctant to spend on a depth starter, especially with Luis Garcia also in the convalescing club. Trouble is, by the time they get back (with no assurance of a bunch of quality work from them) to try to pour some water on the fire, the house may have already burned to the ground.

Nevertheless, the Astros are not hopeless yet. Neither should be their fans.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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