Let's debate the 3 most surprising bright spots for the Astros

Astros Yuli Gurriel
Yuli Gurriel has turned back the clock. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.
Astros win over Angels in extras on an exciting tenth-inning rally

The Astros are hovering around the .500 mark after a really hot start. Some of the usual suspects are producing and helping the team get back on track. Zack Greinke is the ace of the staff so far. In five games started, he has a 2-1 record, 22 strikeouts, a 2.76 ERA, and has pitched 32.2 innings in those five starts. While he hasn't played in as many games to get as many at bats, Jose Altuve has returned to form with a .347 batting average so far this season. Manager Dusty Baker has been toying with the lineup. Altuve has been moved around, but has still found a way to become one of the better hitters in the game again.

Those guys are expected to produce and help this team bounce back from a down year in a pandemic-shortened season. Sure they made the ALCS, but they were under .500 when the season ended and barely made the playoffs. They went on a nice run, but eventually flamed out. So who are the guys that are responsible for their uptick in production lately?

One guy that comes to mind via recency bias is Kent Emmanuel. Jake Odorizzi left his last start with what was described as forearm tightness after pitching only 1/3 of an inning. Emmanuel came in and threw 8 2/3 innings against the division rival Angels holding them to two runs as the bats woke up and pummeled the opposing pitching staff for 16 runs. Emmanuel is a 28-year-old rookie who toiled in the minors until now. He got his shot and made the most of it. I'm looking forward to seeing if this was a one off performance, or a sign of things to come. I'm sure Brent Strom will be able to get the most out of him.

A few years ago, Yuli Gurriel was considered one of this team's best hitters. After last season, and getting a year older at age 36 now soon to be 37, no one really expected "La Pina" to be leading the team in batting average, RBI, on base percentage, hits, walks and tied for second in homers. If aged like wine were an Astro, it would be Yuli. I've been pleasantly surprised at how disciplined he's been at the plate this year. He used to be a free swinger that was good with making contact. Now he seems to be keyed in on the strike zone and what pitches he can/can't swing on. This has translated to him being at his career best so far this year.

Cristian Javier is another guy I've been surprised by. He's 2-0 in three starts with a 1.32 ERA and averaging a healthy 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Javier is 24 years old and has good stuff. He needs to improve his stamina and pitch selection so he lasts longer in games. He's only averaging 4-5 innings per start so far. It could be Dusty holding off on him since it's early in the season, or it could be that Javier is still developing. Either way, I see this kid as being a potential long term member of the starting staff.

Ultimately, Yuli has been the most surprising to me. I thought he was showing signs of being washed up last year and would show more decline this season. He's not only proved those thoughts wrong, but he's managed to be the team's best offensive threat. If he keeps this up, he's definitely giving me Julio Franco vibes. Mind you, Franco played at the major league level until he was 49! Will Yuli be able to do the same? I doubt it. But he's managed to have a resurgence this year that has helped this team stay competitive and I'm all for it.

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Yordan Alvarez is hitting fifth for the American League. Composite Getty Image.

Baltimore's Corbin Burnes will start for the American League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game against Pittsburgh rookie Paul Skenes.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Burnes is 9-4 with a 2.93 ERA in his first season with the Orioles, who acquired him from Milwaukee just before spring training. The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, Burnes is an All-Star for the fourth straight season. He will become the fifth Orioles pitcher to start an All-Star Game, the first since Steve Stone in 1980.

Skenes, who made his major league debut on May 11, is 6-0 with a 1.90 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 89 and walking 13 in 66 1/3 innings. The 11 starts for the 21-year-old right-hander will be the fewest for an All-Star and he will become the fifth rookie starter after Dave Stenhouse (1962), Mark Fidrych (1976), Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Hideo Nomo (1995).

NL manager Torey Lovullo announced last week he was starting Skenes.

AL manager Bruce Bochy of World Series champion Texas said Monday he has Steven Kwan of Cleveland hitting leadoff and playing left field, followed by Baltimore shortstop Gunnar Henderson, New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto and center fielder Aaron Judge, Houston designed hitter Yordan Alvarez, Guardians shortstop José Ramírez, Toronto first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien.

Ketel Marte bats first and plays second base for the NL, followed by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, Philadelphia shortstop Trea Turner, Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper, Milwaukee catcher William Contreras, Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich, Phillies third baseman Alex Bohm, Dodgers center fielder Teoscar Hernández and San Diego left fielder Jurickson Profar.

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