2022: The stretch run for the Astros

The Astros have about six weeks to go in the 2022 season. They look like a shoo-in for the playoffs. But that does not mean there is no meaning to the 30+ games remaining in the season.

Here are a few items to be decided down the stretch……

  1. Making the playoffs. Looking like shoo-ins for the playoffs and making it are two different things. The Astros’ first step is to play well enough to make it in, which could happen sometime in the second and third week of September. We hope….
  2. Confirm a spot. The other step involved here is confirming their “seed”.  Right now, the Astros would have the top spot in the AL. Of course, every other playoff option is still in play.  The betting money at this time would have them in one of the first two spots and earning a bye rather than having the third best division winner record or a wild card spot in the wild-card round.
  3. Figure out that rotation. And this may well vary by playoff round. In general, teams can get by with four starters for the playoffs. The Astros have six good to great starters, and they will likely go into the playoffs with Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers in the top 3 spots and filling in behind them with one of Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia as the fourth. The “other” two will likely be in the bullpen for the playoffs, available if a pitcher goes out early or as a multi-inning tandem option.
  4. Figure out that bullpen. This is perhaps the most worrisome part of the team right now, as the high leveraged innings have been filled with the opponent’s scoring runs the last few weeks. Is this just a normal short-term funk, or some of the pitchers falling back towards more career norms? With a four-man rotation, the Astros would likely carry a nine-man bullpen. This potentially includes the two additional starters mentioned above: Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Bryan Abreu. The last two spots would seem to be Phil Maton, and Will Smith, as unappetizing as that may be. Both have been pretty spotty lately and both were very good in the 2021 playoffs. The only really other likely candidate is Seth Martinez, who pitched well in low leverage situations this season. Might the Astros give someone like Hunter Brown a tryout in September to see if he could make the playoff roster? It does not feel like something the Astros would do.
  5. Get the bat(s) rolling. It is always a good thing to have some hitters going crazy in the playoffs, ala George Springer. The one bat that the Astros badly need to get rolling again is Yordan Alvarez, who has not looked like himself since coming back from the IL. The big bats of Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman and warm streaks from Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, and Chas McCormick have helped the offense improve lately. But nothing could supercharge the offense like a solid playoff run from Yordan.
  6. Health and rest. As the Astros saw in the 2021 postseason with McCullers, a late season or playoff injury can badly hurt a team’s chances. No one needs to tell Dusty Baker to give his players plenty of rest, so that will probably happen organically no matter how much that may drive all the fans crazy. The big question with health is the starting pitching. Verlander is in his first season after Tommy John surgery at an age that few pitchers have had the surgery and success.  Valdez, Javier, and Urquidy have already reached career highs in innings with 6 weeks to go in the season. Garcia will likely end up close to his career high from 2021. All of these guys will be monitored coming down the stretch and through the playoffs.

So, what is important in your mind as the team rolls towards the regular season’s end?

47 comments on “2022: The stretch run for the Astros

  1. The key to hitting for Yordan and others is to Stop swinging at pitches a foot off the plate or in the dirt. As for pitching you’ve got to give a couple of the call ups a shot in September. It exposes them to the major league level and gives the regulars (pitchers) some much needed rest. Maybe some extra time to get the BP back to it’s earlier excellent performance level.

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    • Z – I won’t argue that the hitters that are struggling the most are swinging too often at poor pitches. But on top of that when Yordan is making contact not that much is happening. His last 21 games / 74 ABs – he has 16 hits with 2 doubles and 1 home runs.
      The ball is not jumping off that bat and a lot of those hits are singles slapped the other way or to center.
      This is a guy who when he breathed heavy on the ball it would fly out of the park. His first 84 games he had 30 home runs one in less than every 3rd game and only one in the 21 games since.
      If it would help him I would rather him sit out the rest of the regular season and try to return for the playoffs – but something tells me that after the season he will have surgery and they will tell us it was a matter of him playing through pain in his hand or some such rot.

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  2. By all means, rest and good health are the biggest factors. Besides playing Frenchy Dubon five days a week, I have no idea what the clubs plans are in this regard. Can Frenchy go to the pen too? I just hope Dusty and Click are on the same page.

    We’ll know a bit more on September 1. I’d like to see the Astros make room on the 40 man for Brown. With Maldy now cooled off from his hot streak, we’ve got the resource to rest him and not give up anything on the field. It’s an ideal opportunity for Vazquez to catch everyone. That should be a priority. Getting Diaz back would only help Pena get more time to clear his head. I’m not worried about Yordan. He’ll break out soon. With a 5 man rotation we might see Javier go back to the pen to get reacclimated.

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  3. “Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseballs Brightest Minds Created Baseballs biggest Mess”. That’s the title of the new Evan Drellich book due out on February 14th that will take us back to 2017 and scandal. What an ideal time to start the marketing campaign for a 2023 release, just as we enter the stretch run! I guess Evan is looking for his paycheck. Although he writes for the Athletic, he’ll always be a Boston homer. Wonder what took him so long?

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  4. Did we get a ‘W’ for that game? Or did we just somehow miraculously escape without the embarrassing ‘BS’/’L’ our suddenly worthless bullpen and pitiful excuse for a late-inning replacement outfielder deserved?

    We can’t get another outfielder and a new face or two in the bullpen fast enough for me. No mas Frenchy. No mas Rafael. No mas Will Smith. No mas Dust in the Wind.

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      • I was hard on Abreu last year, and even in the first month of the season I thought yea he can hit 100 but he doesn’t ever know where its going. He has worked hard to change that. Dude could be a closer right now if can just inch that 3.8 to 2.8. It’s literally 1 walk every 9 innings or every 6-7 games – to me he is right there. He and Stanek have been outstanding all year (well maybe Stanek hasn’t been super duper in the last 4 weeks, but really how long was a sub 1 ERA going to last).

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    • I’ll say this about Frenchy, he’s been a pretty reliable hustler. But on Tuesday night he dived for a ball that he had no business diving for. There was no play. Last night he picked up an error in the corner. He looked a bit lackadaisical going after that ball. He’s likely going to get a whole weekend on the field. I sure hope he contributes, but the more we see of him the more holes we seem to see.

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  5. To me, the thing to strive for as the season winds down is momentum. Develop the ability to steamroll any other team that is in the opposing dugout.
    We don’t have that yet.

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  6. I haven’t watched a game in a while, so I haven’t seen McCullers, only the box score. Are there lingering concerns about velocity? He has never been a get em out with his FB kinda guy but he has always used that 95 MPH heater to set up the curve, and if he isn’t hitting 95 I would be concerned how well that curve will play in a big moment.

    I would assume Hunter Brown will be shut down for the year when the PCL ends. He has crossed 100 innings for only the second time ever. Injuries have always caused the guy to bounce back and forth between starting and relieving, and he split that up some again this year. I’m not convinced he is a future major league piece, and I believe that if he is its probably as a shut down reliever (maybe even closer), but if the intent is for him to start by the Astros, they should not crank it anymore on him this year – call it a season, have him report to major league camp next year, and see where it takes him. With McCullers, Urquidy, Garcia, Valdez and Javier all under team control for the next few years he could be a Pressley replacement by 2024. I also think Verlander will be back after an offseason opt-out, plenty of tums by the fan base, and a new contract – because he is adverse to change, and lets be honest, he deserves the Scherzer, 3 year ridiculous contract at this point.

    I doubt Baker moves the lineup around much in the playoffs except to alternate Vasquez and Maldy. He wants to win it all, so despite his daily lineup shakeup in the playoffs I think you will get a steady diet of Mancini and Chas and less of Meyers and Dubon. Still think you will get lots of Maldy though.

    We can say what we want about Baker’s quirkiness, but in the end JV is gonna end up with 19-20 wins, probably 29 starts, and probably around 185-188 innings. You could not have scripted it better. Pitching the entire season in a 6 man rotation has been wonders for him.

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  7. One thing they pointed out after the broadcast last night – the Astros 80-45 record is the best the team has ever produced after 125 games in their history. That is putting them on a 103 win pace, which is just a little short of the 107 in 2019, when the team roared down the stretch going 28-9 in their last 37 games. I don’t see Dusty pushing them that hard this year.
    If I’m figuring this right – the Astros magic number to win the AL West is around 25.

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    • Once we win the division the only thing left is to get the top playoff spot over the (spit) Yankees. Hopefully, they’ll fold like a cheap suit but I wouldn’t count on it. Otherwise we could coast to the finish line giving our guys a much needed rest before the playoffs.
      25 looks to be a good #.
      That’s a combination of Astro wins and Seattle losses. In looking at the schedules we have 16 games against playoff or potential playoff teams. Seattle has 15 but they are battling for a WC spot. That’s why the last month of the regular season gets so interesting. In the AL there are still 7 teams with division or playoff possibilities (3 teams in the Central Division). In the NL it’s also 7 teams. I do look to see Atlanta wining their division and the Mets getting a WC. It’s all pretty interesting to watch from here out.

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    • Hey Dan, did they also point out that after all the talk about them being on pace for the single season win record, the Yankees have now fallen to 76-48 and only a 7.5 game lead over the Rays?

      I agree with you 100%. I think Dusty tries to rest players even more than his normal, preferred amount down the stretch and hopes guys like Dubon don’t hurt the results too much. However, I think they do want the home field advantage for psychological reasons and Dusty will be managing the next few weeks with the intent on entering the final week with a solid enough lead that they can afford to setup their postseason rotation/relief corps.

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  8. Been having a hard time logging in but here goes. I’m puzzled why McCullers is considered a lock to be in the post season rotation. Certainly he has been there before but what has he done since coming back from injury to warrant automatic ascension?
    My biggest concern is with the structure of the bullpen. We don’t have a true multiple innings reliever since Martinez was sent down. Every one of the relievers is basically a one inning guy and their use is showing.

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    • I did some digging on fangraphs. His velocity is looking just fine – pretty much the same as normal. He really doesn’t look different in 2 starts statistically.

      I think he will have 6-7 starts to audition to Baker. He doesn’t need to audition to us right. It really doesn’t matter if someone anoints him on here. I would think the results of those 6-7 starts will inform Baker’s decision.

      Bullpen has always been my concern. I am glad Mancini is here, the team needed that spot in the order to be a little beefier, but I said before the trade deadline I hope this team hits up the KC’s and Miami’s and Arizona’s of the world and takes their best relievers – and the bullpen was completely ignored.

      Last year we made the moves for Graveman and Maton and Garcia, and while it wasn’t terrible – Graveman was not the answer to the 8th we thought he would be in the playoffs. And we couldn’t hit Atlanta. Who knows if last years deals and the deals not made informed the decisions this year. I do agree with you, this bullpen, it could very easily cost us a playoff series. It also has guys though that can get outs.

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    • Hello DrBill,

      I’m optimistic that Lance will help in the post season. Historically he’s been good in big games. I like that he’s hit his pitch counts in both starts since back. He’s given up just three runs in 11 innings, all off one pitch. 7 walks are way too many. But it’s not surprising after so much time away. He’s got to fix that though. It’s too early to determine his role yet. I do think he’ll show up though.

      We have one of the best multi- inning pen guys in the league in Christian Javier. And we’ll likely have Garcia or Urquidy too. Then there is also Bryan Abreu for up to two innings. That’s pretty good depth as long as our presently shaky single inning guys correct over the next month.

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  9. A lot of contributions for sure: Three hits for Altuve, and 2 apiece for Gurriel, Bregman, and Vazquez. A big bomb by Mancini. A well-struck RBI double for Pena. Alas, we got O-fers from Alvarez (with a GIDP), from Dubon, and from suddenly useless Jake Meyers. Garcia’s 5-inning outing was not spectacular, but with the offense clicking it turned out to be adequate. It would have been looked better but for that squandered chance by Meyers on Gordon’s admittedly well-stuck shot to center, followed by a really bad wild pitch. Will Smith and Phil Maton both gave up hits to the first batters they faced, but somehow got out of their innings without giving the Twins – who were whipped by that time – a run. Neris and Montero both looked good and had clean innings.

    Bird hunting, anyone?

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    • I was nervous when Maton came in but he was up to the task. His pitches have decent movement on them and when he can hit his spots he’s pretty effective. But he leaves too many over the fat part of the plate and he pays the price. Hopefully he can figure that out and he’ll be much better.

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  10. As much as I like Maldy and I do – there is really no reason that he shouldn’t be backing up Vazquez at this point with Vazquez starting 4 or 5 a week and Maldy a couple.
    Mancini has given the team a nice shot in the arm – he is a bit less proficient professional hitter than Uncle Mike with a lot more power.
    It was good to see Neris and Montero looking like themselves late.
    Smith got out the two leftys he faced, but the righty nearly took him out of the park. Yordan with that bazooka of an arm made the most surprising toss out at 2nd on that play. He took his time getting to it off the wall and really set himself for the throw and nailed the runner by a mile.
    Maton didn’t pitch scared or whatever it is he has been doing lately.
    Unless I am crazy, Garcia is the one guy out of the six starters that is for sure not in the four man rotation. He is still good, but on this staff, good puts him in the six spot (I still put McCullers in there due to his playoff history).
    Somebody tell Altuve to stop running into outs. It feels like he has been tossed out on the paths 4 or 5 times the last week. I would get on Vazquez’s case for getting thrown out stealing, but he actually easily beat the throw but inexplicably had his lead leg up in the air like some little leaguer. Actually watching some of the Little League World Series, the LL’ers wouldn’t have made that mistake.
    It feels awfully good to see Bregman being Bregman again. Over the last 26 games he is hitting .372 BA/ .451 OBP/ 1.174 OPS with 28 runs scored, 12 doubles, 7 HRs and 26 RBIs. He’s raised his overall slash to .267 BA/ .370 OBP/ .847 OPS and looks like he is enjoying the game again.
    Carlos Correa, who normally has a flare for the dramatic in emotional situations was 1 for 11 with one RBI on a sac fly. His 1 hit did break up the no hitter in the first game of the series, and he did his normal good job of fielding overall, but he missed out on throwing out Bregman at the plate with an off line relay in yesterday’s game. Oh well, $35 MM doesn’t go as far as it used to.

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    • Yes, no way that CC is worth $35MM. I wonder what the Twins are thinking now about their investment. I was catching a video on Sports Map HOU and the discussion was CC vs Pena. In one video John Granado and Lance Zierlein fell that the right decision was made. In another video (I can’t remember the guys) felt like they would rather have CC. They talked about CC’s post season play but that’s just a small sample in the grand scheme of things.
      Glad to see the BP hold up and great contributions from the guys Dan P mentioned. One thing that was mentioned was getting Vasquez and Mancini more playing time. I don’t think there’s a better catcher in the league than MM but Vasquez should get more starts. One out of every 5-6 days ain’t going to get it. This is the time to do it.

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  11. I wonder if Luis will go to a more traditional windup next year? I know he’s been messing with some changes. It cost him a balk a couple of weeks ago. But he’s reached a plateau. He’s stopped getting better. Most teams would love to have him in their rotation, but the Astros might not have room for him in 2023, if hypothetically Brown joined the group and Verlander signed a new deal.

    As Steven noted yesterday, it would be great to have Carlos for the post season, but he’s gone and the Astros have figured out a way to be the best team in the American League without him. He would not admit it, but there has to be a certain degree of melancholy for him as he’s playing out the string in late August while old his buddies prepare for the post season. And I’d be shocked if he got anything close to the contract he’s apparently still looking for.

    I feel bad for Jake Meyers. He’s not the same player he was. His inability to hit can get fixed to a degree, but I’m not sure about his outfield play. I think the warning track scares him. Even coming in a ball he’s erratic. He got a late start and pulled up on a ball that was catchable last night. But the biggest issue is his arm. Never powerful, it’s weak now. He made a throw last night intended for the plate from fairly shallow center that trickled to the mound.

    Our back up catcher is one of the best catchers in baseball. Our back up is much better at the job overall than our starter is. Maldy might have super powers as it applies to getting the most out of his pitching staff and he is obviously loved by all, but he’s not close to Vazquez in the tangible aspects of the game. We probably don’t have Vazquez in the budget for 2023 and beyond, but we should.

    I’m hoping the Pressly injury is a blessing in disguise and will result in full health and good rest. We’ll manage in the meantime. I’m sure Javier can close too.

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    • Hunter Brown is about to turn 24. Garcia will turn 26 this December. It’s tough to compare thanks to 2020, but in his last milb stint Garcia had a 12.6 K/9 at Quad Cities in 2019. Brown is at 11.4 K/9 this year at Sugarland and was better for 49IP last year at CC posting a 13.9. Against MLB hitters, Garcia is posting a 9.3 K/9 this year after putting up a 9.7 last year. His BB/9 at the MLB level is far better than anything Brown has ever posted in the minors. Garcia is not arbitration eligible until 2024.

      So, I look at this two ways. First, Click has a young, cheap starter who has a lot of potential value in Garcia. We might need to find outfield help for next year. He also has Urquidy and Javier to consider, but realistically he can’t do anything until Verlander makes his decision. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Brown to come into spring training and beat any of those guys out for a spot.

      I wonder if the Twins are counting on Correa opting out this winter. Regardless, he’s not in any smart team’s budget. I was never concerned with the injury history to the degree some here were, but even if he’s healthy he doesn’t show up in all the games. My memories of A-Rod were him looking awful in the postseason, but if you actually look at the cumulative stats he posted an .822 OPS. Compare that to our HOFers putting up a .685 and .618 and perhaps I’m too hard on that PED using cheater. Correa owns an .849 OPS and has had some series where he disappeared, but also owns a few game winning HR and certainly has that tantalizing potential. I’m hoping Pena will finish this year strong and be reliable in the postseason so we don’t have to listen to any conversations about Correa this offseason.

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      • Devin, I think Verlander will likely make a decision on his future early in the off season. I don’t think he’ll get into a back and forth battle with a bunch of teams over a few million dollars. And Crane will again be personally involved. So however that works out, Click should be able to get on with his off season business pretty early. And I hope the outfield is the biggest priority.

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  12. I missed the Meyers play last night. Based on what I’m reading here, I wonder if the Astros called up infielder David Hensley in order to give him a crash course in handling an outfield position.
    In his minor league career he has been an infielder in an outfielder’s body. His best grade is his hit tool and at 6ft. 6 inches he has played all 4 infield positions.
    Hensley was brought up to the club 6 days ago and hasn’t played yet, even though the club gave him a 40-man spot.
    What have they seen and what do they know that would provoke them to make this move at this time? With that body, it seems to me his value is as an outfielder who can move to the infield in an emergency, rather than as an infielder who can move to the outfield in an emergency. Either way, they must like his bat or it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

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  13. Some comments:
    * I was shocked at some of the pitches that Yuli Gurriel missed last night. Some were called strikes, some were fouled off, some were hit weakly and some were swings and misses. These were pitches he would have drilled in years past.
    * Trey Mancini has gone from a team that never was in the playoffs and had a ridiculous LF fence, to one that almost assuredly will make the playoffs and has short porches in LF and RF.
    The guy is happy. But, once the year is over, he will probably be looking for long-term financial security at age 31.
    * Verlander’s interview yesterday was the first instance where I heard him refer to declining his option for 2023 if he continues to pitch the way he is pitching. https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2022/08/astros-notes-pressly-verlander-javier.html
    * The Astros will have a number spots on their roster at the end of the season. I expect Yainer Diaz, Hunter Brown and Justin Dirden to fill 3 of them.

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    • Dirden actually doesn’t have to be protected until after next season. That probably means they wait on him and give him a non-roster invite to spring training.

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  14. Is it me or do the Astros make any opposing pitcher, with an ERA over 5, look like Cy Young?? It seems like they have done this all season long with the exception of maybe two or three instances.

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    • I went through every at-bat for the Astros last night on Gameday. Bradish’s game plan was the same for every Astros batter, whether LH or RH: throw nothing on the inside third of the plate and nothing inside off the plate. He lived on the outside half of the plate and outside off the plate all night. The Astros hits came off of pitches down the middle and they were mistakes which were not barreled up.

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  15. Well, I’ve got to find something positive after what was probably the stinker of the year. Lance has somehow labored his way through 16 innings and given up only 3 runs on that homer in Atlanta. The ERA is 1.69. But this is a great example why we should not excited about a low ERA, especially in a short sample. The WHIP is 1.438 or something similar. 10 walks in those 16 innings. He did not have any ability to get a breaking ball over. But, somehow he matched the bats of his offense and put up all zeros.

    Unfortunately, Javier who looked forlorn sitting out in the pen early in the game while his buddies Garcia and Framber hooted at him from the dugout, did not seem all that pumped up for his new job. But better that he gave up the two run shot early, as we might have gone 15 innings without scoring last night. I never thought I’d see Frenchy pinch hit for Jake, but Jake took two center cut fastballs with the bat on his shoulder for strike three in his two latest feeble at bats. Unless there was another reason for him getting pulled, that’s not exactly a vote of confidence from his manager. Time to forget about this one. We need to beat these cocky upstarts tonight.

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  16. Our tall drink of water is starting for Pena tonight. I wish Chas would get that pinky working again, but club protocol on that injury might be another week. But I am feeling runs tonight by our guys.

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