The top of the Astros’ lineup has been very productive this season. The only hiccough was Jose Altuve’s games, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez due to COVID or COVID related protocols. Those three, plus Michael Brantley, the red hot Yuli Gurriel and the slightly lagging Carlos Correa, constitute a tough gauntlet for opposing pitchers to navigate.
The performance of the bottom three of the lineup? This has been a limitation on having a well oiled hitting machine. But each of the normal three at the bottom — Kyle Tucker, Myles Straw and Martin Maldonado — has been showing signs of life lately that bode well for the team’s offensive performance as a whole.
Kyle Tucker. Tucker is becoming the new Alex Bregman as far as crummy starts to seasons go. Last season, after 22 games, he suffered from a .193 BA/ .227 OBP/ .577 OPS slash. He then righted the ship and ended up with a solid .268/.325/.837 slash for the 60 games season. A week ago, after playing his 33rd game, his numbers were a nasty .175 BA/ .242 OBP/ .584 OPS. He somehow had pretty decent numbers in home runs and RBIs, but he was not hitting like his full 2020 season hinted he could be. But starting about a week ago in a game where he was given a gift of a triple by the home town official scorer on a hard smash that went through the first baseman’s wicket, he has been on fire.
In the last 6 games, Tucker has scored 10 runs, hit 3 HRs and knocked in 9 RBIs. His slash for the week has been a hefty .476 BA/ .560 OBP/ 1.608, which has lifted his overall slash to a less embarrassing .222/.294/.746. Even with his overall poor start, he is tied for the team lead in runs scored (25), leads in HRs (8) and is second in RBIs (25). He is a key cog in keeping the offense rolling in the 7th spot in the lineup.
Myles Straw. His improvement has been more modest than Tucker’s, and less is expected from someone who is considered a place keeper in center field, but he has looked better at the plate over the last couple of weeks and has had better results in the last few games. After bottoming out against the Blue Jays last Sunday (.204 BA/. 296 OBP/ .546 OPS) – he has had a better last four games highlighted by two 2 RBI games and a .333/ .375/.775 slash for the week. He will never be a power hitter and should not be attempting to do that, but if he can hit singles with men on base and get on base himself at a better clip, he can be a valuable part of the lineup until Jose Siri or Pedro Leon or whoever shows up.
Martin Maldonado. No one expected what has happened so far in 2021 as Martin has made Jason Castro look like an outstanding hitting catcher. While not hitting for a high average in 2020 (.215), he drew a lot of walks to get on base (.350 OBP) and showed decent power (6 HRs) while driving in 24 runs in only 47 games played. This season he was hitting like a terrible hitting pitcher. After 21 games, his slash was a miserable .091 BA/ .167 OBP/ .303 OPS, and he had no RBIs. In the last seven games, he has returned to the land of the living as he has slashed a good .292/.370/.954, scoring 2 runs hitting his first two home runs of the season and knocking in his first 5 runs of the season. This has moved him up to where he is hitting like a middle of the road pitcher with a .144 BA/ .222 OBP/ .478 OPS. Here’s hoping for a continued rise out of Martin and the rest of the Astro’s lower lineup.
No one expects the bottom of the Astros lineup to match the production of the top of the lineup, but the more times they can get on base and extend rallies, the more times the lineup flips, and that top gets another shot to inflict damage. This is a key to more consistent offensive performance out of this team.