MAKING HISTORY

Here's a fresh, unique perspective on Houston Astros dilemma at first

Astros Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu is chasing history, but not in a good way. Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images.

I left for vacation on April 14. Came back home on April 24. Eleven days in England and Germany.

Astros first baseman Jose Abreu went 0 for my vacation.

The last time Abreu reached base via a real-life hit was April 13 when he got two hits (fully half of his season total) and his batting average soared to a robust .122.

Since then, while I was dining on shepherd’s pie and schnitzel, Abreu has gone hitless in 21 at bats and his batting average has plunged to a squinty .065.

There’s an expression in baseball when a player is having a horrible, dreadful season: “He ain’t hitting his weight.”

Abreu ain’t hitting his uniform number. If you’re keeping score at home, Abreu weighs 250 pounds and wears number 79.

Abreu is chasing history. The record for suckiest single-season batting average for a player with enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for the batting title is held by former Orioles slugger Chris Davis.

In 2018, Davis batted .168. Despite being in the middle of a wildly overpaid 7-year, $161 million contract, the Orioles essentially fired Davis and his career was over in 2020.

Abreu is in the middle year of a guaranteed 3-year, $58.5 million, money down the toilet contract. Will he be an Astro next year when owner Jim Crane chokes on signing yet another $19.5 million paycheck for Abreu? Unlikely.

Other modern era batters have turned in disastrous single-season averages. Dan Uggla batted an unattractive .179 for the Braves in 2013. Rob Deer was a deer in the headlights swatting .179 for the Tigers in 1991.

Abreu is turning futility into an art form. If he continues his .065 pace he will obliterate every record for crummiest season in baseball history.

He has appeared in 19 games and has 4 hits in 62 at bats, with no home runs and one measly RBI. He had his latest oh-fer Tuesday night against the Cubs.

Fans are clamoring for Astros manager Joe Espada to open his eyes, stop looking at the back of Abreu’s baseball and bench the flailing, failing first baseman.

I say the opposite. In fact move him back to fifth in the batting order. If Abreu stays focused on doing what he does best this season - striking out with runners in scoring position - fans can witness the worst batting stats anybody’s ever had.

Oh, by the way, Abreu is a horrible fielding first baseman. We don’t know if he’s a good base runner. He’d have to get on base for us to tell.

Abreu is on pace to get 502 plate appearances. So this counts.

There actually is a player who’s having worse time at the plate than Abreu., though.

Abreu’s meager stats look positively Ruthian compared to what former Astro catcher Martin Maldonado is putting up for the White Sox. Maldy has 2 hits in 42 at bats for a subterranean .048 batting average with no homers and no RBI in 15 games. Maldonado won’t get to 502 plate appearances, however.

Who will end 2024 with a lower batting average: Abreu or Maldonado? This epic battle could go down to the final game of the season.

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One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*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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