John Granato: For Astros, it should be Tucker time

Kyle Tucker should be in an Astros uniform now. Rich Schultz

When the Astros broke spring training a buddy asked me why they didn’t bring Kyle Tucker up with the big league team. I assured him that they didn’t need him. He could get at bats at the minor league level and they wouldn’t have to start his major league clock. They were good enough to win without him. Maybe they’re not. Maybe they need their best players to win.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Jake Marisnick. I know his teammates like him. I know all the women in Houston and beyond like him. He’s a handsome man. If the Astros were in the modeling business he’d be their MVP. But they’re not in the modeling business. They’re in the baseball business and he’s not good at that.

I don’t want Jake to lose his job. I never want that to happen to anyone. I want him to have a job somewhere. I just don’t want him striking out for the Astros anymore. After Tuesday’s game he had gone 0 for his last 16 with 11 strikeouts. That’s not good.

It’s not just Jake though. Anyone who plays left field for the Astros automatically forgets how to hit. Only Detroit’s left fielders have been more futile this season. Astros left fielders are hitting .152 with an OPS hovering at .500. They’ve collected 9 hits all season and just 7 RBI while striking out 21 times. These are all terrible numbers. Terrible.

It’s not in the Astros nature to panic but is it panicking to make a move that could bolster the offense? Let’s face it, Jake Marisnick is who he is. He hit for power last year but that was all.  

The other option is Derek Fisher. He’s started a few games but A.J. Hinch doesn’t have much confidence in him and why would he? He is basically a pinch runner. If the rest of the guys were hitting like they did last year you would have the luxury of carrying a pinch runner and a defensive outfielder. So far this year you don’t. After Wednesday night’s game he was down to .125 with an OPS of .421, That’s really really bad.

This season the Astros are looking a little like they did in 2015 when they made the playoffs as a wild card. Here are the averages from 2015 and 2018.

2015 Astros averages:                 2018 Astros averages:

Jose Altuve                 .313                  Jose Altuve            .314

Carlos Correa             .279                 Carlos Correa        .288

Marwin Gonzalez      .279                 Josh Reddick         .273

George Springer        .276                 Yuli Gurriel            .250

Evan Gattis                 .246                Alex Bregman        .214

Colby Rasmus            .238                Evan Gattis             .212

Jake Marisnick          .236                George Springer     .211

Luis Valbuena            .224                Marwin Gonzalez  .164

Jason Castro               .211                 Derek Fisher          .143

Chris Carter                .199                 Jake Marisnick     .133

The thing that stuck out that year was the falloff from the top four hitters to the rest of the lineup. That’s playing out again.  What made it palatable was that they made up for the lack of offensive consistency with power.

The 2015 version had a .437 slugging percentage with 230 home runs.

Before Wednesday night’s game the 2018 version was  slugging .363 and was on pace to hit 144 home runs. That’s bad. No one expects them to duplicate last year’s performance but that’s a drastic fall off from 2017’s .478 slugging and 238 home runs.

It’s early and they’ve shown a glimmer of hope lately in Seattle but some things will never change, Marisnick and Fisher being able to hit at the Major League level being one of them.

Which means it’s Tucker time. Kyle’s fourth year arbitration  clock has already struck. If you’re not on the 40-man yet you don’t have to wait until June to be called up and get that extra year of service. I guess the thought being that if you’re that good why make the kid and the team wait? It’s how the Cubs brought up Kris Bryant so early and still held his rights for that extra year. It paid off big time for them.

That move was obvious. The Cubs wanted desperately to get that World Series monkey off their back. The Astros are not that desperate. They’ve already exorcised that demon but all I heard this offseason was #Neversettle. Well it’s time to not settle for this beyond hopeless offensive output in left field.

While they have already won their World Series title this team has the potential to do so much more. The bullpen is a mess but the rotation is the best in baseball and the Verlander, Keuchel, Morton and Cole clocks are ticking. Keuchel and Morton are unrestricted free agents after this season and you’ve only got Cole and Verlander for sure for one year after this.

The time to win is now. You bring home consecutive titles and you’re in elite territory. No one has won back to back World Series this century. That’s saying something.

Does Kyle Tucker assure that? No but he can’t be any worse than what’s happening now. Who knows? He may be this year’s Cody Bellinger, another guy who came up late last year and got that Super 2 status. Think he made a difference for the Dodgers?

The Astros have historically been a team that was hesitant to bring up young players early. Ask George Springer about that. But that was a different team. They weren’t going to win anything so why start his Major League clock? That made sense. Keeping Tucker down doesn’t.

He is not ripping the cover off the ball in Fresno (he’s hitting .235 but his OPS is over .700 and he’s showing he’s got a disciplined eye at the plate with 9 walks in 60 plate appearances) but none of that matters anyway. He showed he can hit in the spring and he might be like that good college football team that doesn’t make the playoffs and has to go to a lesser bowl game. Sometimes there’s a natural letdown if you feel like you should be playing somewhere else.

Who knows why? They know he can hit. They know he’s their top hitting prospect and they need hitting in left field.

It would open up a lot if they solidified that position. Marwin could roam all over the field giving guys days off and still get his at-bats.

It makes too much sense. Tucker time is now.



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Houston's bats have a hot night

Astros clobber Rangers to win series opener

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After dropping two of three in Seattle, the Astros entered the regular season's final series still waiting to clinch their playoff berth. Luckily their matchup favored them, with four games against the 19-37 Rangers, which they have done well against in recent years. Here are highlights from the opener:

Final Score: Astros 12, Rangers 4.

Record: 29-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.32 ERA).

Astros put up 10 on Lynn 

Houston had no trouble getting acquainted with the Rangers' new stadium, jumping out to an early lead in the top of the first inning. After a lengthy at-bat against Lance Lynn, Jose Altuve reached on a one-out single, then scored from first on a two-out RBI-triple by Alex Bregman. They'd double their lead in the next at-bat on an error, making it 2-0.

They extended that lead even more in the next inning, getting back-to-back singles to start the inning to set up a big three-run dinger by George Springer to straightaway center-field to make it 5-0. Bregman added two more RBI to his night in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a leadoff single by Michael Brantley by hitting a two-run homer to make it a 7-0 lead. Altuve would push the total to double-digits in the top of the sixth, lifting a three-run home run of his own to make it a 10- lead.

Javier with a decent start, bullpen closes out the win

Meanwhile, Cristian Javier was doing well on the mound against the Rangers. He allowed just three baserunners through the first five innings, a double in the first, a hit batter in the second, and a single in the fifth. He would falter a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff single then a two-run homer, then later in the inning a sac fly, making it 10-3 before Houston would turn to their bullpen. Javier's final line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 95 TP.

Luis Garcia would get the final out of the sixth then returned for the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff double that would score on a two-out RBI-double, making it a six-run game before Garcia finished the frame. Brooks Raley was the next reliever and notched two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.

Josh Reddick gave Houston two more insurance runs, joining the home run barrage with a two-run homer in the top of the inning to make it 12-4 going to the bottom half. Brandon Bielak was given a low-leverage opportunity to throw in the bottom of the ninth. He erased a two-out double for a scoreless inning to wrap up the lopsided win, lowering Houston's magic number to 1.

Up Next: The second game of this four-game set between Houston and Texas will start Friday at 7:05 PM Central at Globe Life Field. The pitching battle will be Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53 ERA) for the Rangers and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78 ERA) for the Astros.

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