After last season, it may feel strange to say that the Astros are in the early season after 29 games since that would have been just short of half a season a year ago. But, they have covered less than 20% of the 2021 season, and so some concerns may be the result of small sample syndrome, while others may be true concerns that are not going away.
Here are some concerns at this time in the season…
- Top-end. Let’s face it. As fans, we have been spoiled by the top end of our rotation over the last half-decade. Whether it was Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole or Charlie Morton, the top end of the rotation has been dominant. With Verlander out for the year and Framber Valdez perhaps debuting next month, the top end has been anchored by the dual inconsistent “rocks” – Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. In two of his last four outings, Greinke has not gotten to the fifth inning. Is he the pitcher who has dominated the A’s and the Mariners in outings or the guy who struggles when the umpire is squeezing, and the hitters are patient? At times McCullers has looked absolutely unhittable this season, and the most hits he’s given up in an outing has been 4 (Greinke has given up 10 hits twice). But he always seems to be about one step away from an emotional meltdown. He has the talent to be the Astros best starter, but he has to control himself.
- The Little Big Man. It is impressive yet disconcerting to see Jose Altuve drop 100 pts off his batting average in a week. Yes, it is an early-season slump, but after a terrible 2020, fans thought he might be beyond all this when he was the “old” Altuve in the 2020 playoffs and hot to start off 2021. Is this the new normal (a terrible COVID term) for Jose? Is it psychological? Is he a person taking it very personally that his greatest accomplishments have been tarnished by his and his teammates’ actions or even inaction when it comes to stopping things? Anyways, the Astros cannot survive with a leadoff hitter who is hitting like Martin Maldonado.
- The Big Little Man. Speaking of El Machete, Martin has been about as bad a hitter in the first 5 weeks as one could think is possible. His .091 BA/ .167 OBP/ .303 OPS slash is almost impossibly bad for someone who does not take the mound. He has no home runs or RBIs so far this year. He has no multi-hit games, and in fact, he has hit in only 6 of his 21 games this year. And for those concerned, Martin is one Astro who had no problem signing an in-season extension. This is just a slump. Oh Lord, it better be.
- Sum Total. Even though the Astros are the fourth-best about preventing runs in the AL (3.90 runs/game) and 3rd best at scoring (4.86 runs/game), they still have won only one more game than they have lost at 15-14. The sum of the parts seems to be less than the value of each of them.
- The Kid. Even though he has a decent 5 HRs (tied for first on the team) and 15 RBIs (tied for third), Kyle Tucker, even hitting in bad luck, should not be slashing at a pitiful .183 BA/ .241 OBP/ .597 OPS. It has not helped Tucker that he has had to face left-handers in 45% of his at bats, though he must find a way to hit better than his current.149 BA against the portsiders. We hope this is part of the maturing process.
- Nothing for Something. What if Jake Odorizzi and Pedro Baez do nothing but collect checks (like Verlander) this year? I’ve nothing more to say on that subject.
- After the Fire’s Gone. What happens when Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and heck, even Jason Castro cool down? Correa’s been solid but not hot. Maldonado, Myles Straw, Tucker and Altuve (lately) cold. Will this offense roll up in a small ball and die?
OK, that is what this writer is concerned about. What about you, readers?