As long as the Astros don’t have any rainouts along the way, they will play 17 straight days starting Friday night against the Angels at Minute Maid. Most of those games are in a controlled atmosphere here in Houston or in the lawnmower shed in Arlington. Outdoors they play four games in Anaheim (it never rains in Southern California) and three games in Oakland (it pours) right before their next and only day off down the stretch.
Manager Dusty Baker has raised the ire of the fans with his one size fits all, “if I tell a guy he’s having a day off, he’s having a day off no matter how hot he is” approach to his lineup. The latest was Alex Bregman sitting out the day after his dramatic 9th inning homer tied a game that looked like it was long lost. He did drag his ancient body off the bench to line another 9th inning homer in the game he was sitting out, but that was after the cows had left the barn.
Now, one would think that days off for the best players would be rare in this stretch run. Hopefully, those days off along the way will have meant this is a fresher team than in the past.
The best news is that some of the bats that had been slumbering through August, like Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel, have been heating up the last week. Throw in the return of the prodigal third baseman in Bregman, which is a big boost to the team.
Unfortunately, none of those heating up resides in the bullpen, and it feels like the ‘pen will continue to be the biggest concern for the team’s fans. Ryan Pressly, who had been sterling for so much of the season, has just yakked up critical 9th inning runs two games in a row. Kendall Graveman has given up twice as many earned runs in his 16 games with the Astros as he gave up in his 30 games with the Mariners. Ryne Stanek is great, except when he isn’t. Phil Maton looks like a so-so reliever, Cristian Javier looks shaky, and Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley work best as situational lefties, which doesn’t work as well when they have to face a three batter minimum.
While the Astros have a decent hold on first place in the division, they seem to lose to anyone at any time and anyplace. More importantly than expanding their lead (though that would be nice), the team just plain play better, is more consistent, smarter ball, and shows a bit more heart and enthusiasm.
Perhaps the Astros can loll along and then turn things on in the playoffs, but if they loll too much, they may be watching the playoffs like their fans will….on TV.