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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Hell about froze over when the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, 108 years after their previous title. The Astros snapped their franchise-long championship drought of 55 years by winning it all the following year. Five years after the Cubs won it in ’16 they lost 91 games. Five years after the Astros won it in ’17, they won it again last fall. Now, the Cubs are likely heading for a third straight losing season. We’ll see where the Astros end up in 2023, but they are yet again a serious World Series contender. The Astros sweeping three from the Cubbies at Minute Maid Park this week should be the last time this season the Astros start a series facing the possibility of slipping below .500. Now at 24-19, the Astros are tucked just two games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West. The Rangers play host to the National League West cellar-dwelling Colorado Rockies this weekend.

A's on the schedule and Jose Altuve returns?

The Astros’ good times should keep rolling as they now get the chance to slaughter the Oakland Athletics. Not that the Astros should need a boost vs. Oakland but it appears they will get one with Jose Altuve getting to start his season following recovery of his broken right thumb. You never know in one game or in a best-of-three (the Astros were fantastic last year and the A’s were trash, yet last July the A’s took five of six games from the Astros), but anything less than an Astros’ sweep will feel like a failure.

The A’s are an absurdly bad 10-35. If their .222 winning percentage plays out season-long, the A’s will finish with 36 wins and 126 losses. That would be the worst record for any Major League Baseball team since 1900. The Athletics’ franchise already owns the dubious distinction with the 1916 Philadelphia A’s setting the ineptitude standard at 36-117. Those are the A’s who moved to Kansas City in 1955, to Oakland in 1968, and now plan to move to Las Vegas within the next few years. It should be a great weekend for the Astros’ to boost their thus far disappointing offensive numbers. Oakland’s team earned run average this season is a “you must be kidding me” 7.13. And that’s an improvement from the 7.72 mark the Oakland staff had at the end of April! A’s starting pitchers entered May with a combined 0-15 record and 8.51 ERA. That sounds impossible.

As a total laughingstock, it’s incredible that Oakland has one guy in its lineup with better numbers than Yordan Alvarez has this season, and another with numbers better than any Astro other than Alvarez. 28-year-old journeyman Brent Rooker opened this season with a career batting average of .200 and a career OPS of .668. That’s a bad player. So far in 2023 Rooker is batting .295 with a whopping 1.013 OPS. Alvarez checks in with a .939 OPS. The devil might be collecting Rooker’s soul any week now.

Then there’s 27 year old first baseman Brent Noda who had never sniffed the big leagues until making the A’s this spring. Kyle Tucker has the Astros’ second best OPS at .798. Noda is batting just .215 but his OPS is .821 because he has drawn walks at an astounding rate. Noda has 107 at bats and 30 walks drawn. That’s the same number of walks that Jose Abreu, Mauricio Dubon, Jeremy Pena, and Jake Meyers have drawn combined with 589 at bats. The A’s claimed Noda off of waivers from the Dodgers in December and are paying him the Major League minimum salary of 720 thousand dollars. Abreu makes more than 720 thousand dollars per week with his 19 and a half million dollar seasonal take.

Much more reflective of the Athletics’ overall team are the atrocious numbers of former Astros Tony Kemp and Aledmys Diaz. By comparison they make Abreu's play look not so dismal, no small feat. The one-time popular “Hugs for Homers” guy (Kemp) is batting a paltry .169 with a .491 OPS. Diaz has been worse. Aledmys signed with Oakland for regular playing time and two years 14 million dollars. Unfortunately Diaz picked up with the A’s as if it was the 2022 postseason during which he didn’t hit worth half a darn. Diaz sits with a .165 batting average and .445 OPS. At least Diaz isn’t hurting Oakland’s playoff hopes. Diaz does get his World Series ring Friday night.

Bring on the lefties!

Whether Dusty Baker had a late night epiphany, someone got through to him, or other, it’s a good development that Dusty seems done with the doofy concept that he must have right-handed hitting Abreu in between lefties Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Next, maybe he gets that it’s time to shift more starting catching duties from Martin Maldonado to Yainer Diaz to give Diaz a real chance to produce. Diaz is obviously the better hitter, he throws better, and for all of Maldonado’s behind the plate sagacity the Astros’ earned run average so far this season is lower with Diaz catching than with Maldy.

More Astros coverage? Yes, please!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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