Astros 2020: Halfway thoughts

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.

38 comments on “Astros 2020: Halfway thoughts

  1. Regarding Bielak, I wonder if we just saw him hit a wall more than other teams figuring him out. This is an odd year where they started throwing, shut it down, got ramped back up quickly and then started playing games that apparently count. His control hasn’t been there the last couple games either and Greg Maddux will tell you the two most important things are location and movement.

    On Altuve, an interesting article popped into my feed yesterday. I think it was fantasy baseball focused, which generally I’d ignore, but the short version is that his launch angle on balls in play was very consistent from 2015-2018 and then it widened by about 5 degrees in 2019. It’s even worse in 2020, but obviously the sample size is far too small to really make judgements. I complained a lot last year that he was trying to be a power hitter to his detriment. With 31 HR in 2019 it probably looked like a lot of success, but with only 3 so far in 2020 he’s looking a lot less valuable. Based on his effort to pull the ball I suspect he’s just trying to force that power to show back up. I doubt a former MVP would take my advice on what to do at the plate though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. -With the two days off the Astros could reshuffle the rotation and not need to make a change until Bielak’s next turn on Tuesday. Have Urquidy ready to make that start.
    – Make a trade for a reliever by the deadline and DFA Biagini.
    – Aledmys Diaz will be ready soon to add a RH bat to the roster.
    -Springer should be ready to go on Friday.
    -Bregman should be back by mid-September.
    The Astros need to play .500 ball for the next two weeks until their players come back and then make a push at the end to move up and try to better their position in the playoffs.
    -The Kyle Tucker we are seeing now is the Kyle Tucker we saw in AAA last year. It appears this Kyle Tucker is the real KT and that is the guy who was supposed to be the future. The future is now.
    -The difference between Yuli Gurriel and other 36 year old star major league hitters is that he has played only half the games they have up to this point in his career. For the first 10 years of his career he played 90 games or less. Then he did the same in Japan and took two years off after defecting. He got hurt and didn’t play much his first season or his second season.
    He has gotten better the last two years because his body hasn’t had all the wear and tear major leaguers get.
    I would try and sign him to a two year, incentive laden deal. He said he would like to finish his career in Houston.
    -Having Bregman, Altuve, Alvarez, Gurriel, Correa, Tucker, Leon, Maldonado, Diaz, Toro and Straw all ready to play in 2021 is a great thing to look forward to. That gives Click a chance to focus on pitching during the off season and a full year to view our pitchers and see what additions he needs to make to keep this team a WS favorite in 2021 and beyond.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Major league baseball is now officially on life support for me. After three games being postponed for political reasons, I am ready to tell them good bye. I have already left basketball and football behind. Please, baseball, do not break my heart. You are entertainers, not politicians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarge, far too many distractions in life for me right now. I yearn for a calmer, more embracing world. I’d sure like to leave that legacy to our kids. For so many years, the great majority of our sports figures made it a point to stay away from social issues, presumably not to alienate them from any of us; the fans, the media and the corporate entities that paid the bills. Those days are now behind us. Maybe for better, maybe for worse. But honestly, I have no problem with any citizen speaking up in a loud, but peaceful voice.

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      • I agree about the “peaceful” voice. However, these athletes are not backing a peaceful resolution. I have written a prolonged, very personal, diatribe to your post, that personally concerns my very safety, but thought better to not post it due to out political policies here. Even though it has no political leanings in it. I will say, these teams, who are participating in these “strikes,” including other sports, have absolutely lost my following.

        Peace

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      • Sarge, I’d like to read it and perhaps respond. Maybe without specific political leanings, Dan will green light it. Obviously you have a very difficult job. And I sure wish it could be made safer rather than more dangerous. I think we can all agree that we’re going in the wrong direction.

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    • All I can say is thank you for your service to our communities, Sarge. It’s pretty humbling how brave some folks have been. If we gave thanks as a nation more often, perhaps both parties (citizens and law enforcement) wouldn’t feel threatened in the 1st place. Common sense, not politics.

      Hey, Let’s talk about prospects and hitting mid-season 2021 healthy with our amazing blossom of talent! It’s my opinion we do not have the firepower to compete on elite level any more, like we did in Spring. We should find out who’s in, and who’s out longer term. We don’t want to shoot wad like Rangers in 2016 (got Beltran and Lucroy), and not project well enough to re-tool.

      We should proceed with the plan to get Dusty his ring. Cut him some slack while we cut teeth from the rookies. Will we try any less hard to win — No! But let’s temper our expectations and make moves for when we truly have momentum.

      We have a TON of talent that are superfluous/redundant, like Nathan Perry, or 3 other catchers. We have lots of hi-end velocity pitchers with less control (similar to Yoahn Ramirez who we should have traded!) And so on..

      Discuss?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 1. Not sure why he was sent down, but would like to see Brandon Bailey back.
    But really, would like to see ABB: Anyone But Biagini.

    2. Fifth starter? Sneed has been pitching well lately. i would give him, Bailey or Perez a start. Urquidy? I think if/when he is ready they will ramp him up slowly from the bullpen first.

    3. Altuve definitely seems to be trying too hard. During his hit streak he was not overswinging, but lately he has tried to pull everything.

    4. Of the young pitchers mentioned, Framber has really improved his command and lowered his walk rate. The others, especially Scrubb needs to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think we have a consensus on Biagini. Anticipating the arrival of Urquidy and the return of JV. Hopefully soon. If Altuve would work on contact instead of trying to hit the ball on the train tracks he might make it. Learn to be a spray hitter. Could take a lesson or two from Tony Gwinn. Pitchers are coming around but somebody always seems to blow up just when we need it most. Consistency is the key. It’s called throwing strikes.
    One other topic is a curious one even though it’s another team. With all of the talent that the LAA have don’t you think it strange that they’re at 1o – 22? I wonder how Trout and others feel about it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Altuve does not have to learn to be a spray hitter. We already know that he can hit to any part of the park when he’s taking a disciplined approach. When he starts swinging at all kinds of crap, he’s doing pitchers a big favor and he’s not playing team baseball.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. On July 24 I looked at the schedule and decided the Astros might go 35 and 25. Of course, I had no idea what was to follow on the injury front. At this point, I think we will hit more and pitch less over the next 29 games. I don’t think we’ll manage that 35 and 25 record at this point.

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  7. Sarge
    Obviously, I don’t want to go political here at all.
    I think everyone will agree that folks have a right to peacefully protest in this country. I think everyone should agree that we don’t want anything to happen that puts anyone in danger, especially those who pledge to protect all of us.

    The problem we have seen is that what is meant to be peaceful either as protest or suspension of games can be seen as running cover for those with non-peaceful intent.
    I wish we could put the genie back in the bottle as far as separating sports and politics. I don’t see that happening.
    I do want to say Sarge, that I support the men and women who put their lives on the line for us all. I do not support those who abuse that honorable profession, but I know that this is the exception and not the rule.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I wish Altuve would follow what Tucker has done to turn around his season. Tucker has started hitting the ball to the opposite field – pulling those that are asking for it, but going the other way when they aren’t. And he has stopped being a crazed windmill swinging at everything. Tucker has gone from hardly ever taking a walk to taking them and it means they have to throw him better pitches to get him to bite. Altuve has the smallest strike zone on the team when he follows it. He needs to stop swinging at pitches like he thinks he’s 6′-7″ Taylor Jones. (And like he has 7 foot long arms to reach sliders two feet wide or one foot inside)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I had mentioned, in another post, that the team should get Altuve in a batting cage and feed him nothing but sliders on the lower, outside corner of the plate to retrain his eye to recognize those outside pitches and let them go.

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      • Or run video of himself next to Craig Biggio, each flailing at untouchable sliders so he can wince and understand that lots of people have that problem. But then tell him he won’t be following Craig to the Hall unless he lays off those unhittable pitches….He’s not getting to 3000 hits unless he changes

        Liked by 1 person

  9. *I think we should treat Altuve the way he wants to be treated. If he wants help, help him. If he wants to work it out alone, let him do it. We don’t know what is bothering him, but it might be that it has nothing to do with baseball.
    The guy has been through everything as an Astros player and has earned the right to work it out his way.
    * I am glad they found out what is wrong with Alvarez’s knee. Not only can it be fixed, but they can get into a strength program to where he might be able to avoid this in the future.
    * Though Yordan is out, Tucker appears to be picking up the slack. When Springer, Tucker, Brantley and Reddick are all ready to produce normally, that will take care of the outfield and DH. When Bregman comes back, that will take care of returning to an elite infield.
    * I think Maldonado has done well hitting ninth in the order.
    * I’m hoping for better stuff in the next year for one of Toro or Jones. Currently, they are coping with learning how to play in the major leagues. I think one of them might be trade material. I hope the Astros trade the right one.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. As and Rangers taking a knee tonight… I hope the owners don’t pay these players for this. If the majority of us were to do this at our workplace, we would be released. So sad…

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      • Good for you Billy. If I, or any of my coworkers, post anything political on Facebook or other sites, or express our beliefs in a public forum, we are suspended or worse. That’s government for you.

        Like

  11. 5. Giving Job a run for his money? Yes, we have had more than our fair share of injuries in the first half. If just one of Verlander, Urquidy, Bregman or Altuve gives us positive production in the second half I think we will do just fine.

    Job 42:14 The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.

    6. We have 9 more games against the A’s and Dodgers and 20 against the Rangers, Angels, D-backs and Mariners. I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to go 18-11 the rest of the way and finish at 35-25 (or better).

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  12. This 3 game set with the A’s is the most important one at present in this short season. If we prevail and win 2 of 3 or sweep, I feel that we’re on our way. Lose the series or get swept and the ship begins to take on water. That’s not just from a win/loss perspective but a psychological one too. It’s time to kick ass and take names. I suspect we still won’t see Mike Fiers (spit). I can’t tell you my true feelings since I’ll get banned from the site (lol).

    Liked by 2 people

    • I so loved the comment that the Dodgers won another trade. The Dodgers signed him for $4 million and then traded him for Josh Fields. We pummel Fields in the 2017 WS and then get a ROY out of Alvarez in 2019.
      Anyway, two knees operated on is twice as good as just one getting fixed, right?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Going forward Yordan should *never* play the field except in NL parks. He wasn’t that great of a fielder to begin with , and our OF is deep enough where he’d be better served at DH anyway even if his knees weren’t held together by scotch tape and big league chew (anybody remember that gum?)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I just thought that the last thing we want is for him to come back from major knee surgery and still have some “soreness” in the other knee.
      Hey, he is such a big dude, why couldn’t he play some 1B? He could be another Chris Carter! (Wash my mind and my keyboard out with soap).
      It would be good if he had a position that he was adequate with, even if it was only for inter league and WS games….

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      • He should be ok to play the field if needed. I have the knee surgery experience, all on the left one. The first at the age of 31, orthoscopic on the meniscus, and I was out playing baseball on it three days later, including sliding into bases. Between ages 32 to 34, I had five more on it and still kept my speed. However, at age 60, I had to undergo total replacement on it due to the meniscus being gone. But that’s ok, my ballplaying days are long gone. To wrap this up, comparing Alvarez’s age to mine back then, he should still be mobile enough to play the field.

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  13. Baseball has universal DH now.

    I wouldn’t count him out for OF in 2023 yet as platoon. You certainly tell the athlete that, so he has something to play toward, even though he won’t project there today.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Things haven’t gone my way today – I was hoping to have a new post ready at lunch, but just finished it a few minutes ago. Now if Chip sees it to post it….

    Liked by 1 person

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