the next man up would have been Yordan Alvarez, who tore up major league pitching after his call-up in 2019. Carlos Correa used to be considered in this bunch, but his struggles to stay on the field have relegated him a step below. Michael Brantley was probably one of the three best offensive players in 2019 but is so much the quiet professional he was rarely mentioned in the same breath as the top three or four.
So, 2020 comes along with all its weirdness and what has happened? Altuve, the king of multiple-hit games, does not put up consecutive multiple-hit games until the last two in Colorado, which still leaves him way south (.190 BA) of the Mendoza line. Springer starts very slowly, improves a bit and then misses some time with a hand injury. Bregman is the best of those three, but just as he is hitting his stride he pulls a hamstring and is placed on the IL. Yordan missed the beginning of the season with COVID and knee problems, came back for two games and then was gone for the season. Brantley started the season way above the .400 BA mark, tried to play through a hurt leg and finally was put on the IL. Aledmys Diaz their top super-sub played one game and was put on the IL. Even through this the Astros are 1st in the AL at 5.44 runs/ game. How?
There are a number of under the radar folks who are keeping this train rolling while those who were expected to lead the offense are underperforming or hurt.
Martin Maldonado. Maldonado has always been known as more of a defensive force than an offensive one at the catcher position and was brought back for his handling of pitchers and ability to throw our runners. In 2019 he knocked in 27 runs in 322 at bats. So far in 2020, he shares the club lead with 17 RBIs in only 62 ABs. A man whose career slash has been a meager .219 BA/ .292 OBP/ .648 OPS is slashing at a much improved .245 BA/ .365 OBP/ .784 OPS level. Even if he falls off down the road, he has helped ease the pain of others’ early season failings.
Kyle Tucker. The kid needs to draw walks (only 4 for the season). The kid needs to continue the recent hot streak that has buoyed him from below the Mendoza line up to his current .239 average. But even before this streak, which was fueled by his walk-off HR against the Mariners, he was doing a good job of run-producing both in runs scored and runs knocked in. Currently he leads the team in runs scored (21), tied for the lead in RBIs (17), leads in triples (4), and second in SBs (3). On the run-producing side that is the equivalent of 136 runs scored and 110 RBIs over 162 games. The encouraging thing is seeing him start to hit to the opposite field. If he can also develop a more discerning batting eye, he is a top package of power and sneaky speed.
Yuli Gurriel. Yuli tends to be a forgotten man in the Astros offense. The early part of his career he hit for a good average, but was poor at drawing walks and was below average in power for a corner infielder. In 2019, he jacked up both the power and the walks and became much more of a force. Heading into 2020 the Astros most interestingly reworked his contract so that he would not have a couple seasons of arbitration, but would become a free agent after 2020. So far in 2020, he has improved his OBP to .364 (a career high). He also leads the team in HRs (5), hits (29), OPS (.904) and is second in runs scored (17). Can they bring him back in 2021 at a reasonable rate or do they begin the Taylor Jones era at 1B?
Carlos Correa. The talent has always been there. The dependability has not. Even in a disappointing 2019 season where he only played 75 games, he was on a pace for a very impressive 45 HRs and 127 RBIs. Ah, but there is the rub. Only in 2016 (153 games) has he played in more than 110 games in the last 5 seasons. So knock on your nearest oak table, but so far in 2020 Carlos has been healthy and when the dude is healthy he produces. He has been playing the very best SS of his life, some of the highlight-reel plays he has produced have been truly impressive. At the plate, he leads the team in hitting (.315 BA), and in OBP (.398). He might be higher in runs scored (10) and RBIs (14) except for the fact he has hit 6th, 7th or 8th in the order in 19 of 25 games. But for someone everyone was wondering about heading into 2020, he has been an under the radar solid performer.
There you have four players who have kept this offense rolling, and who have probably exceeded hype headed into 2020. What are your thoughts?