MLB 2022 Quarter Pole: Astros

Still enough in the tank to make another road trip to the postseason?

The Houston Astros should be looking at the possibility that time is running out on the most successful run in team history. George Springer, Marwin Gonzales, Carlos Correa, and Gerritt Cole are all gone. Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley remain. Will the new blood step in to replace those who have left?

So far, the answer is maybe. Jeremy Pena is on track to be the American League Rookie of the Year if he can maintain the pace he has set so far (.293 ave., 7 HRs in 133 at-bats). If he can avoid the injury history of his father, he could be a key transition piece for the Astros. Geronimo Pena infamously broke his collarbone after he stepped on his own glove trying to catch a ball during warmups.

Second baseman Altuve and right-fielder/designated hitter Brantley are only slightly below their career averages. Third baseman Alex Bregman and first baseman Yuli Gurriel are still playing good defense, but their offensive production has taken a digger (.227 combined ave). Bregman has 26 RBI to Gurriel’s 13. Designated Hitter Yordan Alvarez is hitting .254. After that, no one is hitting better than .235. It’s ugly.

The Yankees got rid of Gary Sanchez. Why can’t the Astros ditch Martin Maldonado? Let’s put three numbers together: one, two, and zero. What is that? Maldonado’s batting average. I feel like shouting, “THE DUDE CANNOT HIT!!!” But that would be rude and people get all aggravated when you use all caps. Regardless, the question must be asked, why are the Astros continuing to pay him? When did he decide to swing at every pitch? Isn’t it weird that a catcher can’t read a pitch? Isn’t it weird that a catcher doesn’t know the strike zone? He’s ninth on the team in at-bats. He leads the team in strikeouts (36 percent of his at-bats end with a K). Jason Castro has better numbers career-wise but he’s only hitting .125.

You would think it shouldn’t take long for Korey Lee to be called up from the Sugarland Skeeters AAA club, but his call-up to that level has not gone well (.203 and 47 strikeouts this season). The Astros should probably look a rung farther down the ladder at Yainer Diaz. He is a career .326 hitter in the minors and is hitting .313 at AA. What’s concerning about him is his caught-stealing percentage dropped from between 40-48 percent early in his career to no better than 33 percent in the last two years. Teams may not run as much as they used to, but they will take advantage if a free base can be had.

On the mound, the team has been lights out. Houston is second in the Majors behind a returning Justin Verlander (1.22 earned run average) and a cast of kids with an average of 55 appearances each. Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia all have ERA’s under 3.38, as does the old man on the staff, Jake Odorizzi. Out of the bullpen, the Astros are just as effective with a host of relievers most people probably haven’t heard of. Ryne Stanek and Rafael Montero have ERA’s of 1.13 and 0.48 respectively. The rest of the cast have ERAs under 3.50.

The oddsmakers have the Astros as the fifth-most likely to win the World Series. It seems they have the pitching, but an early start is anything but a guarantee, especially for a bunch of youngsters. A couple of injuries here and there could be disastrous. Even if the pitching stays great, the hitting is a problem. Altuve can win you only so many games.

Projection: 87 wins. ALDS loss.

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