Ironically, the Astros crossed the halfway mark of the season midway through an unexpected and unscheduled doubleheader on Tuesday night. Those are the perfect adjectives for this craziest of baseball seasons – unexpected and unscheduled. Rather than go through a bunch of full-year projections today, the theme will be to throw out some random thoughts going forward.
- Joe Biagini Must Go. It may not seem like it, but actually, Biagini was better last season than he has been so far this season. To this point in 2020, he has pitched four times and has given up runs every time. 0.2 IP 1 run / 0.1 IP 3 runs/ 2.2 IP 2 runs/ 0.2 IP 4 runs. Last year with the Astros he actually had 8 scoreless appearances. Now he did give up 12 runs in his other 5 appearances, but he was not bad every time out. Right now, he is bad every time out.
- About that fifth Starter. Brandon Bielak pitched very well his first five times out of the chute including three starts, posting a 1.69 ERA. His last two times out he has been toasted by the Padres (7 runs in 1.1 IP) and the Angels (4 runs in 0.2 IP). The runs are not as big a problem as the lack of innings covered, which necessitated using relievers like Biagini (see bullet #1) early and often. It becomes a tough decision going forward. Do they find this correctable or do they make a change and if they change who do they go to? How close is Jose Urquidy? Cy Sneed? Brandon Bailey? Cionel Perez?
- Jose, Can You See? There is no doubt that like Craig Biggio before him due to his everyman lack of size, and due to his infectious personality and unbelievable talent, Jose Altuve has been the public face of this team. He has been there through the horror of the 100+ loss seasons. He has been through the gigantic turnaround and championship run. But right now he isn’t right, and it is as likely that he is not right between the ears more so than mechanically. He has also been the face of the scandal, even though some say he did not like being tipped off on pitches. He has been the focus of aluminum foil hat conspiracy discussions relative to a supposed tip-off for his series-winning home run in the 2019 ALCS. He seems determined to prove it all wrong as though a single over-amped swing will make it go away. And the harder he tries, the worse of a ballplayer he becomes.
- Which young ‘uns are real? It is a bit ridiculous to judge any baseball player over even one month. Up above it is possible to abandon Brandon Bielak after a couple terrible outings. Cristian Javier has had some brilliant outings and a couple down starts. Framber Valdez has been overall very good and very significantly has been stretched out the last couple times out. Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb and Enoli Paredes have all made their major league debuts and despite a propensity to walk too many hitters have all helped keep a ravaged bullpen afloat. Will these guys all go on to be successful long term Astros? Probably not. But if three or four of them hit – that is cheap long term assistance to the big club.
- Giving Job a run for his money. The Astros are without the AL Cy Young award winner from 2019, Justin Verlander. They are without the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, Yordan Alvarez. They are without the 2019 AL MVP runner-up, Alex Bregman. They are without the 2019 AL leader in saves, Roberto Osuna. They are without the guy who started and won the 4th game of the World Series, Jose Urquidy. They might as well be without the 2017 AL MVP winner Jose Altuve. And this is after having lost their all-time most successful manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow in the offseason on top of free agents Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Will Harris and Hector Rondon. Through this, the team has held its own and somehow has a winning record.
- Playing Winners and Losers. As has been covered several times before, the Astros play better against losers than winners. Just remember that with the Astros only playing the AL and NL West, that they are playing 3 teams with winning records and six teams with losing records this season. So maybe that is not so bad?
- The Renaissance. Kyle Tucker muddled along for about three weeks but has jump-started his season in the last couple weeks. He leads the team in SLG, OPS, runs scored, RBIs, triples and tied for the lead in HRs and has learned to take walks (seven in the last six ball games after four in the first 25 games).
- The Truth. If I told you that Verlander would be gone after one start, Alvarez after 8 ABs, Osuna after 4 appearances, that Springer would be hitting .193, and that Altuve would be hitting .206 at the midway point of the season, would you say 17-14 is a bad mark? The Astros have had 115 innings of their 281 innings thrown this season by players making their major league debuts. If you go beyond the normal starting nine for the Astros, the rest of the players are hitting a non-robust .183 BA. The Astros are out-performing what should be the reasonable expectations for them at this point. The best hope is that they can keep the boat afloat and moving in the right direction until some help (Verlander? Bregman? Urquidy? Peacock? Diaz?) arrives.
The Astros are in second place at the halfway point in the season. They have struggled at times and have played well at times. They are likely headed to the playoffs. Will they back in or will they kick in the door? A lot will happen in the next month.