DECISIONS, DECISIONS

1st world probs: 2 best teams in MLB sh​are same impossible dilemma

1st world probs: 2 best teams in MLB sh​are same impossible dilemma
How long can the Astros wait for Yuli Gurriel to start hitting? Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

In case you missed it on YouTube, New York sports talk host Don La Greca unleashed an epic rant after a caller said one of La Greca’s comments was “moronic” and a gravy trainer off co-host Michael Kay.

Initially the caller said that the Yankees should, take your pick, trade, bench or cut outfielder Joey Gallo, who’s hitting an anemic .166. La Greca disagreed with the caller. He said that Gallo wasn’t hurting the team, after all the Yankees are leading the American League East by 14 games. So why sit Gallo if the Yankees are winning with him in the lineup?

I’m with the caller – a moronic comment.

You could practically hear the caller shaking his head. The caller then sent La Greca over the cliff by saying La Greca would be a total dud on radio if not for his co-host. That’s when La Greca lost his, ahem, mind and created six minutes of insane radio magic … if you like that sort of thing. I happen to love crazy.

Here’s the video. You won't be disappointed.

We have a similar controversy in Houston without our sports hosts popping a vein in their forehead. What to do about Yuli Gurriel? The Astros veteran first baseman is hitting a puny .230 with only seven homers and 26 RBI. That’s after 80 games and 314 plate appearances, so we’re not talking early in the season and surely he’ll snap out of his batting funk. Gurriel is becoming what the kids call an “automatic out.”

Thankfully, none of Houston’s talk hosts are using La Greca’s idiotic logic that Gurriel’s batting woes aren’t a problem because the Astros are winning and they’re up double-digits over the second-place Mariners.

Sure the Astros are winning despite Gurriel’s frustrations at the plate, but we’re in the dog days of summer when the Astros are playing the Angels, A’s and Mariners over and over. Fourteen of the Astros next 16 games are against those three teams. And didn’t we just get through a series against the A’s? It’s a weird schedule.

But wait until the playoffs, when the Astros will be playing only the top teams in baseball. If Gurriel still isn’t hitting, can the Astros afford to keep him in the lineup? They already have a sub-.200 hitter behind the plate. Two automatic outs may be one too many.

It’s the elephant in the lineup. Is it time for the Astros to cut their losses with Gurriel and give a younger player the rest of the regular season to prepare for the playoffs and next season and the season after that? What do you think? And remember, use your indoor voice.

In case you’re wondering …

Let’s say Gurriel finishes the season at his current .230 batting average. That would be 87 points off his American League-leading .317 from 2021. He still won’t come close to the biggest one-season drop-off for a batting champion.

That unenviable record belongs to former Detroit Tiger first baseman Norm Cash, who won the AL batting crown with .361 in 1961 and followed it with a .243 average next year - a dip of 118 points.

Cash’s 1961 season was one of the best all-around hitting seasons in modern baseball. In addition to batting .361, he belted 41 homers and drove in 132 runs. Cash was money in the field, too, leading the league in put outs at first base.

Cash later admitted that he used an illegal bat in 1961, hollowing out several inches toward the barrel and filling it with sawdust, cork and glue.

That was a pretty wacky year, 1961. Cash hit .361 and Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s homer record with 61 in ’61.

Cash has another record that is hard to imagine happening again. In 1963, he played an entire 9-inning game at first base and never touched a live ball – no assists, no put outs, no errors, no dropped foul balls, no pick offs or pick off attempts.

One more weird stat on Cash’s register: in 1960, he played 121 games, came to the plate 428 times and never hit into a double play.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*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 The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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