MAKING HIS PITCH

John Granato: How will Astros fans react to Osuna's first home appearance?

John Granato: How will Astros fans react to Osuna's first home appearance?
Roberto Osuna will likely make his first appearance in a game at Minute Maid this weekend. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Astros are coming home for the first time since the acquisition of Roberto Osuna. It’ll be interesting to see how the fan base reacts when he comes out of the bullpen to pitch for the first time at Minute Maid.

His first appearance as an Astro drew a smattering of boos in San Francisco. But it was San Francisco. I’m not sure they knew about or cared about the controversy enough to boo. Their average rent for a one bedroom is over $3200. It’s hard for them to care about anything else.

What will happen at Minute Maid? Osuna’s ours now. Fan bases stand behind their guys. Milwaukee’s Josh Hader got a standing ovation for his homophobic and racist tweets. Well, I’m not sure he got a standing O because of them but I’m not ruling it out.

I don’t think Osuna will get a standing O here but I’m not ruling that out either. He did have a five pitch outing the other night. That was totally sweet. The problem is that it was in San Francisco at about 11:30 at night. A lot of Astros fans didn’t see it.

It’ll also be interesting to see what the attendance will be like this weekend too. How many people will actually live up to their promise of being done with the Astros? We’ve heard plenty of that over the last week. But it’s easier said than done. Even if you just climbed on board the Astros train last year you’re probably all-in with this team. Osuna aside it’s the most likeable team I can ever remember. They are only adding to that lately with this minor league lineup they are forced to play every night because of all the injuries and yet they’re still winning.

What does it mean if we applaud when Osuna comes in? Like Hader the national media is waiting to pounce on the reaction. Milwaukee got roasted on ESPN for the standing O but that’s what ESPN does. I don’t care what Bill Plaschke thinks of us. We know who we are and what we stand for.

To be clear, I am against domestic violence.

I have been for some time now. I have been an LSU fan for years. My wife went there. My daughter goes there. But they lost me because of how Les Miles handled issues on his team. Jordan Jefferson was seen kicking a marine outside a bar. Jeremy Hill sucker punched a really drunk guy and Jalen Mills was accused of punching a girl in the face so hard he knocked her out. All of these happened without consequences.

I found it hard to root for them anymore. Full disclosure, it coincided with my son playing at the collegiate level so it was easy to push LSU aside. Now that all those guys are gone though it’s more pleasurable to go to LSU games and root for those kids.

And we’ll root for the Astros. It’s going to be hard to watch Osuna and not think about his issue. It’s with him now forever. It’ll never go away and rightfully so. But he doesn’t define what Houston Astros baseball is. It’s exactly the opposite.

For years now we’ve seen guys with checkered pasts join the New England Patriots and tow the line. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Bryan Cox, Albert Haynesworth, Aqib Talib and so on. That locker room was bigger than their shenanigans. It held them accountable.

In a different way this Astros locker room will hold Roberto Osuna accountable. It’s a bunch of great players and great people. Osuna can’t take back what he did. He can only move forward with the help of his teammates and change the narrative. He will be a better person because he is an Astro.

I’m guessing he’ll get more cheers than boos. I won’t do either. I’ll be with the silent majority. I am not going to stand or applaud. I will have no reaction when Osuna comes in. I don’t want anyone to think I appreciate him for what he allegedly did. I will watch silently and take in your reaction.

I don’t know how big a dilemma this is for you. Everyone has to act as his or her  conscience tells them. Mine tells me to shut up and let this play out. What’s yours telling you?


 

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96 games down, 66 games to go as the Astros tackle a fairly significant series in Seattle to open up the figurative second half of the season Friday night. It’s actually just over 40 percent of the schedule remaining. With the Astros having closed within one game of the Mariners in the American League West it’s the biggest series possible for them as the season resumes. But it’s not remotely make or break. Measuring by run differential the Astros should already be out front. They have outscored their opponents by 49 runs while Seattle is just plus-19. The actual standings can be explained in no small part by this comparison: in one-run games the Astros are a pitiful 7-17 while the Mariners are 19-14.

The spectrum of outcomes this weekend ranges from the Astros sweeping and leaving the Emerald City two games on top, to getting swept and heading down the coast to Oakland four games behind. Of note, the Mariners beat the Astros in five of the seven meetings to date this season. So if Seattle wins this series it clinches the season series and playoff tiebreaker should a spot come down to it. The Astros and Mariners have another series to come after this one, three games in Houston the final week of the regular season.

Trade deadline looming

What may be even more important than this weekend’s games is who gets what done between now and the July 30 trade deadline. With Justin Verlander clearly not close to returning, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss both performance question marks, and both Ronel Blanco and Hunter Brown being asked to handle unprecedented workloads for them, the Astros’ rotation needs obvious fortification. The Mariners’ rotation is second to none in the American League and their bullpen is good. Seattle’s lineup is atrocious. The Chicago White Sox are on pace to be one of the worst teams of all-time. The ChiSox’ offense is a joke with a team batting average of .220. The Mariners’ team average is .219. Only the White Sox and pathetic Marlins are scoring fewer runs per game than the M’s.

The Mariners have 11 players with at least 100 at bats this season. Eight of them have an OPS of .690 or lower. Cal Raleigh has the highest at .734. The Astros have 12 guys with at least 100 at bats including Jose Abreu. Abreu, Chas McCormick, and Mauricio Dubon are the only .690 or worse OPS guys. Kyle Tucker is the Astros’ OPS leader by a significant margin, .979 to Yordan Alvarez’s .912. What’s that you ask? Who is this Kyle Tucker? 35 missed games and counting for “Tuck” with his leg bone bruise, with return not imminent. T-Mobile Park is a notably better pitchers’ park than is Minute Maid Park, but not enough to shrug off the Mariners’ offensive ineptitude. The Mariners team payroll is more than 100 million dollars below the Astros’ payroll. The Mariners have the clearly better farm system from which to deal. If Seattle doesn’t add offense, its ownership and front office will deserve a continued fade in the second half, on top of the Mariners’ 8-15 gimp into the All-Star break.

Don't forget about the Rangers

With the Astros and Mariners going at it this weekend with the division lead in the balance, a reminder that this is not a two-team race. The Texas Rangers rallying to take the final two games at Minute Maid Park last weekend sent up a flare that the reigning World Series Champions are definitely still in the picture. The Rangers sit four games behind the Astros, five back of the Mariners. If the Rangers manage to win their series in Arlington with the Orioles this weekend, they are guaranteed to gain ground on at least one team ahead of them. The Astros-Rangers season series sits tied at five wins apiece with three games left, it will be decided in Arlington the first week of August. The Rangers and Mariners play seven more times.

In broader view, as measured by opponents’ records, the Astros have the toughest remaining schedule among the three. Among the 30 big league clubs the Rangers have the fourth easiest slate left, the Mariners have the fifth easiest, the Astros have the 15th easiest. If the Astros ultimately are not to win the West, there is the Wild Card race to keep in mind. The Astros are seven games behind the Yankees, four behind the Twins, and three and a half back of the Red Sox. Those three currently hold the Wild Card spots. The Astros are also a game and a half behind the Royals. The Astros have already lost the season series and tiebreakers to the Yankees, Twins, and Royals. The Astros and Red Sox have all six of their meetings yet to come.

Remembering Ken Hoffman

This is my first column since the passing last Sunday of my friend and eventual colleague Ken Hoffman. I originally learned of Ken’s quirkiness and wit through his columns at the Houston Post. He was a big sports fan. Our friendship was driven in part by our shared passion for tennis. We played probably more than a thousand times over nearly 20 years. Tennis and baseball were Ken’s two favorite sports. His two favorite athletes were Roger Federer and Jose Altuve. Well, after he and his wife Erin’s son Andrew, who was a pitcher on Trinity University’s 2016 NCAA Division Three national championship-winning team.

*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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