After an encouraging start to their road trip where the Astros knocked off the division-leading Oakland A’s in 2-out-of-3 games and took over first place in the AL West, the team limps home with its tail between its legs after a sweep by the lowly Texas Rangers.
The Rangers, who are not as lowly as they were before they played the Astros, took all three games of the series with late rallies, including two in extra innings. The Astros slid from a 1/2 game up in the division to 1-1/2 games behind the A’s as they prepare for a tough nine-game home stand against the Dodgers (29-18), Padres (30-17) and Red Sox (29-19). Those three teams just happen to have the three best records in major league baseball as we start this week.
Today we will take a quick look at some holes in the Astros’ game(s) as we chug towards the end of the 2nd month of the season.
The Power Outage. While it has not affected their ability to score runs, the lack of power from the Astros has forced them to string a lot more hits, walks, etc., to put together crooked number rallies. The Astros are tied for 10th in the AL in home runs with 52. More disturbing has been the lack of power lately from some of their better hitters. Michael Brantley has 1 home run in his last 34 games, Alex Bregman has 1 HR in his last 20 games, Carlos Correa has 1 HR in his last 14 games, and Yordan Alvarez has 1 HR in his last 13 games. It’s taking a lot of effort to score multiple runs lately.
In the past, the Astros sometimes seemed to be waiting for a 3 run homer to kick start their offense, but that is not happening this year for good or bad.
Note – Fallacy. Despite how it feels, the Astros are not a bad club with runners in scoring position. They have the fourth-best BA (.263) with runners in scoring position in the AL and have scored the most runs (192). With RISP and two outs, they have the 4th best BA (.247), and they have scored the 3rd most runs (71).
Shallow Bullpen. Right now about the only time fans don’t wince when there is a call to the bullpen is when they call on Ryan Pressly (even though he gave up the winning run with the 2nd base extra-inning head start on Sunday), Kent Emanuel, and frankly Brooks Raley. After being terrible for the early part of the year, Raley has given up only one run in his last seven outings, and that one scored when neither Brantley nor Myles Straw could catch a popup both could have caught. Ryne Stanek, Bryan Abreu, Andre Scrubb, and Enoli Paredes (10 walks in 3.1 innings!!!) have all had control problems that have led to too many freebie runners that have become cheap runs. Brandon Bielak has been decent, and Joe Smith has been better lately. But still, this is not the bullpen of a couple seasons ago with Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Pressly, Hector Rondon and Smith. Now maybe the return of Jake Odorizzi and Framber Valdez will allow Luis Garcia and/or a Cristian Javier to give a boost to the pen. Right now, it is tough when the bullpen is needed heavily for a few games in a row, which brings us to…..
Who Is Going to Show Up – Starters. Cristian Javier has been all over the place on innings, going 5, 5.1, 7,6 and then 4.2 innings in his last five starts. Zack Greinke went 4 innings in 3 straight starts and then pitched 7 and 8 innings the last couple of times out. Lance McCullers went from 6 to 8 innings every game to barely getting through 5 innings (105 pitches) in his last start. Jose Urquidy had been pretty consistent at getting fairly deep into the games, and then, of course, he got injured in a 3.2 inning appearance. The fifth spot has been normally someone like Luis Garcia, who has done well but has not been expected to go deep. The bottom line is that the Astros never know how many innings they will need out of their spotty bullpen because they are not always sure how deep their starters will go. Will this change when Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi return? That may be a yes, and a no, as Valdez generally goes deeper in games than Jake O.
“That” Spot. Everyone, but apparently GM James Click, knew the Astros would not get a good season in center out of Myles Straw after George Springer left. Straw has been about what the fans expected at the plate, lots of speed, no power and not enough hits. He has been pretty bad in the field, posting negative numbers in most fielding stats. Now it is true that Straw has done more this season than the injured Springer has, but it feels like Straw’s spot may be one that gets filled more and more by Chas McCormick or someone from down on the farm (Jose Siri?).
A Hole in the Dugout? Managers can and are second-guessed a lot. Anybody who makes a zillion decisions a game is bound to be wrong a bunch, and when you have a bullpen that is half-filled with gas cans, you will make wrong decisions quite a bit. But some basics just need to be covered. Why does Jason Castro, who pounds rightys have as many ABs against the righties and does against the lefties he doesn’t? Why did he start Tyler Ivey Friday night when he could have started McCullers with his normal rest? Why does he not use some of his multi-inning type relievers (like Bielak or Emanuel) for multiple innings when his starter is going so few innings? Why are the Astros pulling so many boners on the bases and in the field and not seemingly getting coached out of it? Well, I’m sure my loyal readers have other holes they would like to discuss here. But the Astros better do a better job in the next 9 games, or they could roll downhill in a hurry.