THE PALLILOG

Despite frustrating start, these 3 outstanding performers are giving plenty reason for Astros optimism

Astros Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez
The Astros are back in action on Friday night against the Rangers. Composite Getty Image.

It’s only one week. It’s only one week. It’s only one week. A crummy week it was for the Astros, with too often inept play at Minute Maid Park resulting in a 2-5 season opening homestand. It’s as if it’s still 2023. Dating to last season, regular season and playoffs the Astros are a stupefying 9-27 in their last 36 home games. Yet they annoyingly insist on keeping the roof closed when conditions are wonderful for open air baseball thinking it’s better for their homefield advantage. Lame. Good news, road trip time! Four in Arlington against the reigning World Series Champion Texas Rangers, then three in Kansas City against the improved but still not good Royals.

The Astros or any Astro fan would obviously have gleefully pounced if offered a starting pitching earned run average of 1.29 through the first seven games. 1.29 it is, highlighted by Ronel Blanco’s Monday no-hitter against Toronto. Knowing nothing else you’d guess their record would be at least 5-2, yet the Astros arrive in Arlington at 2-5 because the bullpen has been largely abysmal--both the everyone knew questionable middle relief and the rightfully hyped Bryan Abreu/Ryan Pressly/Josh Hader back end, and timely hitting has been lousy overall. It was one week.

In another reminder that spring training statistics are worthless other than when they help someone win a job, Alex Bregman is off to another sluggish start to the regular season. In Florida Bregman talked of expecting to have his best season ever. Confidence is generally a good thing, but there is very little chance that comes to pass. In 2019 Bregman was a monster and runner-up for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. He hasn’t had a season anywhere near that level since. But, after speaking of having had his best offseason of preparation in years, Bregman hit .383 in the Grapefruit League! With a 1.027 OPS! Yeah, against mostly Triple-A level pitching.

Bregman finished the first week of games that count batting .200 with a .590 OPS. One of his five hits was a gift because of the stupid MLB rule that officially gave Bregman a hit after Jose Altuve ran into a weak grounder off of Bregman’s bat. Last year Bregman finished April batting .219 with a .697 OPS. In 2022 it was .233/.791. For his career Bregman’s OPS through April is a middling .758. The good news is every month May through September/October (not counting playoffs) he has posted at least an .836 career OPS. There is no solid basis to believe Bregman won’t produce a good season ahead of entering free agency. But superstar numbers, probably not.

Welcome to the season, Yordan Alvarez! His two homer, four hit night Wednesday need not have produced sighs of relief. His .125 average on three for 24 through the first six games was feeble, but simply not a big deal. It’s just extra ugly when it represents all one’s stats to date. Last season Alvarez had a four for 28 stretch and a separate two for 21. His numbers turned out ok. One can pretty safely presume they will again this year.

Further on the plus side, Jose Altuve is Jose Altuve (alas including some doofy baserunning). Jeremy Pena is off to an excellent start, including his first two homers since July 5. Yainer Diaz has been fantastic. With Martin Maldonado not here clogging the pipes, Diaz stands a great chance at being an All-Star catcher in his first season as a primary starter. The ball simply explodes off Yainer’s bat. As encouraging, he’s already drawn three walks. Last season Diaz didn’t draw his third walk until June 9 in his 84th plate appearance of the season. It was absurd that it took until June 9 for that third walk, but not as absurd as that it took until June 9 for him to reach 84 plate appearances. In case you’re wondering, Maldonado is thus far zero for 2024 with the White Sox.

Jose Abreu on the other hand…

To this still very early point the 37-year-old first baseman looks washed up, not that he should be declared so yet. However, after being one of the worst everyday players in the bigs last season it is not encouraging that Abreu has managed two opposite field singles for his only hits in 19 at bats. He is routinely late on fastballs, and having to cheat to try to catch up to them makes him more vulnerable to off-speed stuff. It’s not imminent but there could come a point where the Astros need to accept the Abreu signing as a big swing and a miss with moving on becoming the best option.

Abreu is guaranteed 19 and a half million dollars this season. And next. It would be a move more easily made if the Astros had an elite first baseman prospect. They do not. Joey Loperfido would be the hope. He’s had quite a feast or famine season start with the Sugar Land Space Cowboys. Loperfido homered for them opening night then hit two more dingers the next night. Then Tuesday Loperfido posted a platinum sombrero plus one: six at bats, six strikeouts. Wednesday, another homer.

Our second season of Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast is underway. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics weekly. The first post for the week goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) 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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