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Joel Blank: It's not time to panic, but Astros could use another bat

Derek Fisher has not developed as hoped. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you are the Houston Astros is it time to push the panic button? In my opinion the answer to that is no, although there is reason for concern.

Houston came off a 6-2 road trip in time to get swept in a four-game series with the Mariners this weekend. Houston had a chance to all but eliminate Seattle from playoff contention, but instead let the M's back in the hunt with four straight wins. Seattle now joins Oakland, nipping at the Astros heels for the division lead.

Of course injuries are the main reason you dont have to press the panic button as Astros fans, with Jose Altuve, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers and now Jake Marisnick all on the disabled list. Add to that Carlos Correa just returned to the lineup this weekend after not having played in a game since late June with back issues. That in a nutshell is the main reason to not go full out panic mode with where this team is an how they are playing. So remain optimistic that once those guys return all will once again be right in the H-town baseball world, but what makes you so sure it will? This isn't last year and there is plenty to worry about and not just on your own roster.

The Astros are the reigning World Series Champions as we all know, but expecting them to waltz right back to a rematch with the best in the National league is unrealistic and irrational. The Red Sox improved in the off season with the addition of J.D. Martinez and are running away with the best record in baseball and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That means no H-town strong, 10th-man helping to push them over the top in a deciding game like they did twice last year. Add to that the Yankees are better with Giancarlo Stanton added to an already potent lineup and several trades bolstering their pitching staff.

The Indians are solid and steady again and the A's are young and arguably the hottest team in baseball having a 23-10 record in one run games through Sunday's game. Even if the Astros were to get back to the World Series there are strong teams in the National League playing good baseball too.

The Cubs traded for Cole Hamels to help strengthen their pitching staff and the Dodgers are going for broke with Manny Machado and Brian Dozier added to an already talented roster.  The reality is, the whole league got better and have Houston in their crosshairs as the team to beat. There is no Justin Verlander trade coming in last minute to save the day this time around, but if the team gets healthy, you don't need another one. Or do you? With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and the waver wire trade deadline fast approaching, I think Jeff Luhnow and his staff should seriously gauge what it would take to add another bat to this years' lineup, preferably an outfielder that can boost the bats and get the boys back on track.

There are many reasons why I think it would behoove the team to make one final move for a reliable, veteran bat. Let's start with the reduced production from Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez. Last year they played out of their minds and well above their career averages. Expecting them to repeat those performances this season was wishful thinking at best and so far, they are who we knew they were all along. Help is not coming from down on the farm either as Derek Fisher went from the odds on favorite to take one of the starting outfield spots coming out of spring training to a disappointing, non hitting, platoon player in need of a massive can of insect repellent after missing a decent amount of time with a bug bite.

Kyle Tucker remains a big part of the future of this franchise, but it's becoming more obvious with each passing game that he is not yet ready for prime time and a starting role on a major league roster, let along a title contender. Tyler White and JD Davis have been top prospects in the organization for some time, but both have struggled mightily when given the chance to prove they belong on the roster and in the lineup on a consistent basis.

Even Evan Gattis has regressed to the norm after a mid-summer hot streak. Granted, Tony Kemp has been a pleasant surprise and can play multiple positions, but he doesn't have much in the playoff experience column and this is the first time he has shown he can hit major league pitching consistantly. Kemp also lacks pop and power, but you can live with that given his average and exceptional speed. He hs earned a spot on this squad going forward and if the team elects to stand pat, he should be the first guy to get the opportunity to start in left field.

I think for all the reasons given previously and then some, Luhnow and the Astros brass need to explore adding one more experienced bat that can play the outfield as well as DH. Even if it's an expiring contract or short term addition, it shouldn't cost you too much in terms of prospects and future considerations and can only help add depth and flexibility to what still is a potent and extremely talented roster when healthy.

That health is also an area of concern by the way, as you can only hope everyone on the DL is able to make a full recovery and are close to 100% down the stretch and leading into the post season. If any of those guys suffer a setback, it's just another reason why adding an extra bat is the right move to make. The clock is ticking, but there is still time, let's hope the Astros right the ship, get healthy and make one more move to put them over the top and fully prepared for another chmpionship run.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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