JOHN GRANATO

This roller coaster Astros season still has many twists and turns to come

Dallas Keuchel had a rough start to the season, but look at him now. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you thought this was going to be a smooth ride this Astros season you couldn’t have been more wrong. What you thought you could count on has turned to mud and what you thought was an ugly duckling is really a beautiful swan. And it’s not over yet, There’s still a month left to this season. Who knows how it’ll end up but this is why you can never speak in absolutes at any point in a 162-game season.

This season started with unbelievable starting pitching, well, everyone but Dallas Keuchel. He got off to a miserable start. The rest of the rotation was straight fire. Remember when Justin Verlander was a lock to win the Cy Young? 16 starts in he was 9-2 with a 1.60 ERA and 15 of those 16 were quality starts. He led the league with 130 strikeouts.

Since then he’s had 12 starts with a 4-6 record and given up 34 runs for a 4.46 ERA. Only half of those have been quality starts but the most alarming part is the 18 home runs he’s given up over those 12 starts. You don’t hear nearly as much about the Cy Young these days but with Chris Sale’s injuries Verlander is definitely still in the hunt thanks to that fast start.

On the other end of that spectrum is Keuchel. At one point it looked like he was going to have a tough time making the postseason rotation. On June 10th he went 4 ⅓ and gave up 6 runs, 5 earned which ballooned his ERA to 4.45. He was 3-8 on the year on a team that was 17 games over .500. In a contract year it looked like this would be Dallas’ last season in Houston.

Something somewhere somehow changed after that start and he’s been the Astros best pitcher over the last two months. Since then he’s 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA. All but three of his 14 starts have been quality starts. He’s back to clearly being the Astros number two starter.

There was a time this season when J.D. Davis, Derek Fisher and Tyler White were prominent in this lineup. Two of those three have gone by the wayside while Tyler White has not only played his way into an everyday role, he’s become one of their best hitters. That’s not an understatement.

Early on I’d get tweets about White in the lineup, how pitiful it was and how he should go back to Fresno. I don’t get those anymore. While he has a smaller sample size than most of the the guys in the lineup, he’s been so good that if the playoffs started today you could make the argument that he should be the team’s cleanup hitter.

White leads the team in OPS and slugging. He’s second in on-base, batting average and home runs per at-bat. Only Gattis hits homers at a better rate but White destroys him in every other category which is why Gattis doesn’t see the field anymore. Remember when Gattis knocked in 30 runs in June in 98 at bats? He’s had about half that many at bats this month and at this rate probably even fewer in September.

Remember when Marwin was costing himself millions in a contract year? Not anymore. At the end of May he was floundering with a .612 OPS. This month it’s 1.049, second only to White who needed a ninth inning walk-off home run yesterday to pass him. Good stuff.

Remember when the bullpen was a mess and there was maybe one guy (Colin McHugh) you could count on? Not the case anymore. I know Osuna has his issues. He will blow some saves. You’ve got to live with that. But a 7th, 8th, 9th of Pressly, Rondon, Osuna or Pressly, Osuna, Rondon or McHugh, Pressly, Rondon or McCullers, Rondon, Osuna or Sipp, McHugh, Rondon or whatever combination A.J. chooses to use is actually not scary anymore. There will be hiccups - always are - but at least you don’t think that you have to use a starter in relief to get anyone out this postseason.

I know Carlos Correa looks bad right now. His average is below .250. He looks lost at the plate. He shouldn’t be hitting clean-up for anyone let alone one of the best teams in the majors, but let’s not jump off the Correa boat just yet. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this season it’s that you never know, you just never know.





 

 

 

Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

Rich Schultz / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the Astros took advantage of the current rules allowing teams in September to expand their major-league roster by bringing up some key players from their AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Bringing them up was beneficial for both the Astros and the players, as it gave the team a chance to rest key players down the stretch, fill some holes due to injury, and provide these young prospects a chance to show what level of performance they are capable of producing in the big leagues.

While Houston had a disappointing stretch of games this past week by dropping three-straight to division-rivals Oakland, this month has otherwise been very successful for the Astros. They continue to inch closer to their magic number to clinch the division, as well as staying in step with the Yankees for the best AL and overall record to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. The success in September, in part, has been a result of these young stars being available and ready to contribute when called on.

Toro and Straw have taken advantage of their opportunities

Let's first take a look at some of the guys who are not as high-profile as the other two we'll get to later. Abraham Toro joined the team in late August to fill an infield spot while both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz missed time with injury. His most exciting moment so far was when he delivered the only runs in a tightly contested game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a two-run home run in the top of the ninth which would ultimately be the difference in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander.

While that was one of his most significant offensive highlights, he has also been solid on defense, filling in at third base while Alex Bregman has covered shortstop for a recovering Carlos Correa. While he likely doesn't make the postseason roster, Toro has shown that should the Astros need a third baseman, whether due to injury or possibly in the years to come with players moving on to other clubs, that he could be their guy.

Another contributor this month has been Myles Straw. While I originally had him on the outside looking in with my playoff roster predictions, the frequency at which Houston has used him as a pinch-runner has shown that they consider him an asset for his speed on the basepaths. Straw alone has scored seven of Houston's 90 runs this month, many of which coming after he was put in as a runner late in a game. That's not to say that's his only strength; he's 4-for-9 at the plate this month and has shown strength on defense as well. Considering the bullpen is starting to get healthy, he could very well find himself on the Astros' bench in the playoffs.

Kyle Tucker has finally broken through 


Many, including myself, were highly anticipating Kyle Tucker's call up in 2018. It, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype; as Tucker would end up going 9-for-64 and a .141 average, no home runs, and just 4 RBIs in his 28 games played in the second half of the 2018 season.

This year is an entirely different story, though, as not only did he have another terrific year in AAA to warrant another chance on the major-league roster, he has finally translated his minor-league success to the big leagues. He already has more hits (13) in his thirteen games in September as he did in his 28-game 2018 debut.

Not only has he been able to notch more hits, but he has also recorded his first and second career home runs along with six other RBIs to double his total from last season (eight versus four). Whether it was some bad luck or improved mechanics, the 2019 version of Kyle Tucker is vastly superior to what we saw in 2018.

Yordan Alvarez is simply unreal


While the players mentioned above are all great in their own right, there is still one young player that has stolen the spotlight on Houston's roster. That is Yordan Alvarez. We're running out of superlatives and records for him to exceed. Had Alvarez been with the Astros from the start of the season, we may not only be talking about the best rookie season ever but one of the best overall seasons by a player, period.

Sure, roughly half of Alvarez's dominance this year came against minor-league talent, but he has been just as dominant in the majors since his debut on June 9th. When you combine his overall statistics between the minors and majors this year, you see an incredible .333 average, 48 home runs, and 146 RBIs. For perspective, although he has spent some time away with injury, the absolute best player in the game, Mike Trout, currently sits with a .291 average, 45 home runs, and 104 RBIs.

He has already locked himself in as the sure American League Rookie of the Year, but now the question is: what can he do with a full season in the major leagues? I am looking forward to seeing how he steps up to the big moments he could be put in during the playoffs this year. Can he deliver these same numbers against the absolute best in the game? I think so, but we will have to wait until October to know for sure.

While the Astros certainly have one of the best set of veterans in the game, the last few months have been a chance to see what may be on the horizon for some of Houston's young talent that will likely be contributing towards more success for their team for years to come.

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