Despite setbacks, here's why things are lining up just right for Astros

The AL Central could be the Astros' best friend. Composite Getty Image.

The All-Star break is typically the time when Houston’s baseball analysts and commentators file their mid-term report cards on the Astros season.

You’ve seen them: Mauricio Dubon gets an A+ for filling in at second base during Jose Altuve’s excused absence for injury. Dubon has been a steady and clutch hitter and, truth be told, an improvement over Altuve at second base.

Jose Abreu earns a D at first base. While he’s improved over his disastrous first 60 games when he was an undeniable flop, he’s retreated to his below-average, certainly below-expectation ways (one hit in the 4-game series against Seattle).

In reality, the whole Astros roster gets an Incomplete for the 2023 season. First, the season has more than two months to go, the dog days of summer are upon us, when the season seems to drag on and games seem to matter less. But that’s really not the case. A “businessman’s special” (remember when they used to call Thursday day games by that gender-specific name?) counts just as much in the standings as a Sunday night “Game of the Week” on national TV.

Let’s not dwell on Astros first-half injuries and disappointments – the team is in second place and looking up at the Texas Rangers, no Astros in the All-Star starting lineup, none in the Home Run Derby, most of the 1-9 starters having a letdown season and the pitching rotation a patchwork of Space Cowboy call-ups.

A path to a deep post-season run

Despite all that misery, let’s be optimistic. The Astros are sitting just two games out of first place. The schedule will give the Astros all the time and games they need to win the division. The Astros have six more games against the Rangers and, perhaps more important, seven left with the Oakland A’s. Because of the mediocrity of the AL Central, where a .500 record might take the division, whoever wins the AL West is all but assured of a first-round bye in the post-season.

I am concerned about the arrogant inevitability I hear from fans that the Astros will win the American League West just by snapping their fingers. That’s the product of the Astros’ crazy success since 2017. As Charles Schwab will tell you, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Put it this way, the Rangers are in first place, two games up. Right now, it’s better to be them than to be us. There’s work to be done. The Astros can always do some extra credit to get their grade up.

First, what to do when Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve return? Alvarez is one of the most fearsome sluggers in the game and Altuve is the heart and soul of this team. They have to play. Where does that leave Dubon and Yanier Diaz? They have to play, too. Who’s the everyday – or most days – center fielder? Will the Astros land a bat or starting arm at the trade deadline?

Will Dusty Baker bite the bullet and put Diaz at catcher and push Maldonado to backup? Will Dubon become the regular left fielder? Will Alvarez get time at first base? Will Alex Bregman turn it around? And will the Astros finally stop saying “when Michael Brantley returns?”

More questions than The Weakest Link, and the Astros could be in jeopardy if Baker doesn’t have the correct answers. Astros fans should strap themselves in tight, it could be a bumpy ride.

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After another poor performance from former Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns' season is starting to look like an uphill climb. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is out for the year, and Cleveland fans aren't too pleased with the way Watson is playing, especially considering the massive contract extension he signed with the team. And we didn't even get to the off the field drama that comes with Watson.

However, Houston fans are invested in the Browns' season outcome as well, with the Texans holding the Browns' first round pick in 2024, and having sent their own first rounder to the Cardinals in the Will Anderson trade.

So each loss for the Browns, means a better draft pick for the Texans!

For Houston, it looks like they have their QB of the future in CJ Stroud. And he'll be on a less expensive rookie contract for the next several years, giving the Texans more cap space to upgrade the roster.

With all of this in mind, is it fair to question if the Texans dodged a bullet when Watson demanded a trade?

DeMeco Ryans vs. Lovie Smith

Plus, we're only two games into the season, but Lovie Smith's defense was much better (with a similar roster) than what DeMeco Ryans' defense has shown thus far, and DeMeco has the benefit of Will Anderson rushing the QB.

Are the struggles on defense more about the roster GM Nick Caserio has put together, or does this slow start fall on DeMeco?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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