5 most critical Astros for the playoff run

I don’t think this is a jinx situation at this point. The Astros have an 11-game lead in the AL West with 22 games to go. Could they lose this lead at this point? Yes, mathematically, it is possible. Will they lose this lead? No.

So, let’s talk about the five most critical Astros heading into the playoff run that is coming in about 4 weeks.

  1. Yordan Alvarez. The last month or so has shown the Astros a new facet to the Alvarez legend. It has been truly the first time that Alvarez has not been on the IL but has been struggling to affect his run production. In 2019, his “worst” month was September, when he slashed .296 BA/ .394 OBP/ .999 OPS with 6 homers and 16 RBIs. After missing two games in 2020, he had a poor slash in July 2021 (.213 BA/ .294 OBP/ .761 OPS) but still had 6 homers and 17 RBIs. But this August, he was in a power drought (possibly due to hand issues) as his slash was well below average (.234/.326/.638) with 1 homer and 10 RBIs. His swing seemed to be returning to him the last week, and he finally launched a homer on Sunday. The Astros need his big bat to be productive if they want to roll through the playoffs.
  2. Justin Verlander. All of the discussion about JV’s return from his leg muscle pull has been positive. He threw a simulated inning this weekend, and they are acting like he may return by the end of the week. That would give him about 3 starts to get himself back on track in a season where he has been putting up Cy Young-worthy numbers. The Astros went deep in the playoffs the last couple of seasons without Verlander, but it feels like they need him pitching at top proficiency to push through to another World Series title.
  3. Lance McCullers Jr. Getting the kind of performance McCullers has given the Astros since his return from the IL (3-1, 2.22 ERA in 5 starts) has been like adding an All Star level arm to the rotation in the most critical part of the season. The only real drawback has been his control issues, as he is at 4.7 walks / 9 IP in 2022. His seven-inning, one-walk start last time out was a step forward. If Verlander returns at the same level he was, the Astros top three of Verlander, Framber Valdez, and McCullers are among the top starting threesomes in the majors.
  4. Ryan Pressly. Pressly has been out a couple times with minor injuries, and in his stead, Rafael Montero and Hector Neris have been picking up the slack in the save department. But having Pressly available and pitching well gives the team a much deeper bullpen, as does the recent success of Bryan Abreu (19 straight scoreless appearances). The bullpen is always a wild card in the playoffs, but it would be good to have one of our most experienced playoff warriors hitting on all cylinders at the most critical time.
  5. Alex Bregman. This could be Kyle Tucker, but Bregman is the most critical right-hand bat in the lineup, and that is important when the other team tries to wipe out Alvarez and Tucker with a left-hander. For about the last two months, Bregman has been hitting a lot closer to his 2018/2019 self with a slash of .304 BA/ .403 OBP/ .973 OPS with 43 runs, 12 HRs, and 42 RBIs in his 58 games since July 5. They need that solid bat to make the other team suffer when they walk Yordan ahead of him in the playoffs.

There are certainly other key players heading towards the playoffs. Who is in your top 5 or 10 lists?

87 comments on “5 most critical Astros for the playoff run

  1. 3. McCullers gets an exclamation point here! As good as Urquidy and Garcia have been throughout the season, both still have the ability to go off the rails early. This is the kind of the stuff that can’t happen in the post season this year. As you note Dan, if our top three starters are all healthy, rested and sharp, we’re in so much better shape than last year.

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  2. 4. Gosh, if Pressly gets back to where he was earlier in the season, he’s almost an added bonus. Even our designated lefty has had a solid month. We won’t have a weak link in the pen. And someone pretty good is going to be left off a post season roster.

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  3. 5. I think Tucker is a bigger key. Bregman remains in the groove that he’s been in for a couple of months. I think Tucker still has his best streak of the season in him. Yordan and Kyle might just take off at the same time. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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  4. 1Alvarez is this year’s Astro team’s only truly ‘big bat’. The other guys – Altuve, Bregman, Tucker, even Gurriel/Mancini, are good offense producers WHEN THEY ARE HOT. Only he is a threat to launch the ball to the moon every time he steps up. His very presence is productive in the regular season [hence the walks he has begun to draw despite a pathetic BA in the last 30 days or so], but yes, we will really need him to be zoned in and sending hapless baseballs into elliptical orbits regularly for our team to make al ong run in the playoffs.

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  5. 2. Verlander. I hope Justin is getting some much needed rest while on the IL. He has cruised through the regular season offenses he’s faced, but his arm is going to need to be as lively as a spring chicken if he is going to dominate against the improved, ramped-up post-season offenses. He’s not been all that dominant in that context in year’s past – so hopefully the IL stint this year can give him the edge he needs to excel when it matters most.

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      • Remember that six inning or so no-no he threw, then got pulled and laughed about it? I sort of expected an IL stint might be on the horizon then. He was just way too chill. And, just by coincidence, of course, the very next time out his calf ‘tightened up’ as he covered first base and ‘boom’ – to the IL he went.

        I think we are seeing a lot of this all over the league right now.

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  6. My top 10 would include the five guys you have mentioned and:
    1. Framber Valdez;
    2. Bryan Abreu;
    3. Hector Neris;
    4. Jose Altuve;
    5. Jeremy Pena [he has shown ‘big game’/big situation instinct – we need him to have a major impact, at least in two or three games].

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  7. We have 22 games left in the 22. Of those games, six are against Tampa Bay [78-60], 4 against Oakland [51-90], 4 against Baltimore [73-67, 3 against Detroit [54-86], and 2 against Arizona [66-73].

    The Mariners have 21 games, and only two of them (the next two) are against a team with a winning record (Padres, 77-64).

    I think our division lead could shrink below 10 games. Since the Yankees have a number of games against their nemeses – the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, and the Orioles [as well as the lowly Rangers and Pirates], they should not pick up too many – if any – games on us.

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  8. I do have some tough new here. I was reaching for a cup of coffee and I trained my econd mallet finger on my left hand. I am in agony when I try to type a w, an s (oh crap that hurts) and an x. I think I really need to ret up for the next couple of week and hope that I can get back in time for the playoff

    Liked by 1 person

    • I calle James Click for a clarification. The GM says the official position of the club is that you are experiencing a little digital discomfort, and you are considered day-to-day. Mauricio a Dubon will be available to sub for you until Dr. Pepper says you can get back on your keys (probably around 10/2 or 4)

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  9. I was surprised by the early start time last night. I forgot they were in the eastern time zone and even at that they started 6:40 local time as they will tonight. By the time I knew they were on the game was 5-0 and the way it went – it was already over in the 5th.
    – Framber was a hoss last night – tying the all time record for consecutive quality starts in one season at 24 with a complete game shutout. Bullpen fully rested after that.
    – Tucker gets three RBIs on one hit and on an unusual double play ball. Because they threw to first first, and then tagged out the runner from first between first and second – the runner on third scored before the tag play and he got an RBI on a double play ball – very unusual
    – Nice to see Pena squaring the ball up again and not flailing after junk pitches. A rejuvenated Pena would be a nice addition down the stretch
    – Yordan starting to rip it a bit again – like we say above – the biggest key to this offense

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    • It will be very interesting to see how Pena handles the post season. Will he hit, or will the better pitchers in the league have him losing all discipline at the plate? I think it will be somewhere in between.

      Regardless, depending on what version you look at, his WAR on the season is going to be in the 3 to 4 plus range. At least half of that is going to come from his excellent defensive ratings. But any way you look at it, that’s a very solid rookie season. And if he only improves on his BB/K ratio in 2023, he’ll be that much better.

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  10. – While I was gone the Astros went 5-2. Since I came back they are 1-0.
    – I don’t know if it is facing lesser competition, but Astros bats are seeming to come alive. Altuve, Bregman, and Alvarez are now now bunched together in the top 20 of Fangraphs WAR leaders of MLB.
    – When Diaz returns, I see Hensley going back to Sugarland, even though JJ has not done much with his LH bat.
    – Framber reminds me of a 2015 Keuchel, but with a better fastball. The drain of speed on Keuchel’s fastball ruined his other pitches starting around 2017.
    – Anxious to see how Hunter Brown does, now that scouts have a little info on him.
    -The Astros defense had their best game of the year Monday night. Some amazing defensive plays were witnessed by almost no one in a nearly empty stadium.

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    • Its funny how the Astros had such good defense after going through a rough patch about a week ago where they seemed to be making a number of silly errors. Maybe they had a little re-emphasis when they were home.
      I feel like Hensley is a better hitter than Matijevic, but I get to decide nothing.
      Sounds like Verlander will be back soon and yes it sure sounds like a bit of in-season rest stop. I hope he is not rusty at all, though it sounds like he has been able to throw during this time off.
      Keuchel never had Framber’s fastball – even when he was at his peak and the thing Framber has is a fastball that loves to dart – it looks like it is so hard to catch, much less hit.
      And nobody gets the opposition to pound as many ground balls as Framber.

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    • Welcome back 1OP. Bregman made several very tough ones look easy. Yordan made a play a lot of leftfielders don’t make. It just seems as if the team is getting into a groove. Even Yuli is teasing again.

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    • You know me, I love comparisons.

      Interesting note. First I thought, well the results have been the same but I am betting those predictive stats – Hard hit%, EV, LD rates, K rates, etc, he is better, but really, he hasn’t been. Matter of fact, Chris Carter hit a hard ball. His EV was consistently over 90, which isn’t Yordanish but its better than average. Just a lifetime of swinging out of the zone too much and not making enough contact.

      And those things have plagued Mancini too so far in his short sample. Honestly AB to AB I don’t know they are too much different. Carter walked more, but struck out more. It doesn’t surprise me that in a stretch of 100 PAs he has similar results, but over a season Mancini is better (I think). Carter was more likely in any given AB to hit a HR or draw a walk. Mancini is more likely to put it in play which can result in a hit (it just hasn’t in this sample so far).

      All of it makes you miss Michael Brantley just that much more.

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      • Your comment about Brantley is interesting to me because I spent some time this morning thinking about him and the rule changes for next year.
        I think the shift and 2B way out on the outfield grass hurt Brantley a lot. And, I think he would still be an above .300 hitter next season if he recuperates from his shoulder injury. Brantley’s power at his current age is to the right side and the new rules will encourage him to pull the ball more.
        I still think Altuve, Bregman, Yordan, Brantley, and Tucker will all benefit from the new rules offensively. I think Pena will shine in a non- shift infield, although that might be offset by Altuve’s range in a non-shift infield.

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      • Yea I would agree Brantley has been hurt more than any other player on the roster on drastic move to shifts in the last 2 years. It would have always hurt lefties more, they see the ball longer and pull more. The new rules are going to be very beneficial for him.

        For me its hard to like them. I am politically a Libertarian, and you know how hard it is to tell Libertarians the rules just changed and now big brother is going to tell you what to do, heck sometimes even if that change is beneficial lol.

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  11. To me Framber is the wild card in all of this. Verlander and McCullers are playoff tested, Framber had one great start last year than got hit around like he was throwing batting practice. The power arms tend to be successful in the playoffs especially when they are hitting their spots. Guys who rely on hitting the spots and getting soft outs tend to get hit a little when you are seeing the better offenses and the hitters are more focused than they are on a random day in July. Yes, I know the Framchise is hitting his stride and is a better pitcher than last year.

    I feel bad for Abreu in all of this. Converted from starter when he was struggling at the end of 2019. Struggled as a reliever for 2 years. At 25 his command is much improved from 2 years ago. He is starting to hit his spots. If he proves his weight as a reliever he will never get to try to be a starter with that improved command. Now that he is just a better pitcher I would love to see him go to AAA at the start of next year and give him 10 starts and see if its real. If he can’t consistently see the 6th because of command issues, fine, pigeon holed it is. But I know what the Astros NEED is for him to become a shut down reliever. Sometimes you just end up the victim of circumstance.

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    • I wish I had some disagreement I could make with your comment. Framber has thrown almost 180 innings this year. 2021 he threw 134 in the regular season…which was his career high by a wide margin. He ran out of gas in the WS and couldn’t hit his spots. My hope is the other starters pull their weight and don’t put a burden on him. If he enters the postseason feeling strong I feel confident he’ll perform. Regardless, he’s been great this year.

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    • One thing about his attitude. He almost always is smiling. When he does make a bad pitch he makes a face that says, boy that was dumb”. His ability to not get flustered at mistakes (either his or somebody else) sure helps him to be even better. He should get some votes for Cy Young but probably not. Why, you say? Because he plays for the Houston Astros.

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    • Framber was forced into the role of ace during the post season last year. It’s too bad that had to be his job. I think having Verlander around and now Lance back has taken a whole lot of burden off his shoulders.

      I’ve always liked Abreu. He’s been with the organization since 2014,
      signed as a kid at the age of 17. He’s grown up in the Astro organization. The club has stuck by him. He was protected on the 40 man when he could have been let loose, multiple times. He’s clearly matured. It was not too long ago that he was throwing 100 and getting beat up. Now he’s making good hitters look bad with his breaking ball. But I’m guessing we’ll see some 100 in October. I’d like to see him start. But maybe at this point he’s looking at Pressly’s job. I’m sure glad he’s still around and under team control until 2027.

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  12. Call me a cynic but I think the key is the same key as it has been all year. The players and pitchers that we expect to do nothing, show up and do something. Chas Mc is an excellent example. We expect little but then his bat wins a game or three. We expect nothing from Maldy and his bat wins a game or three. And Mancini. And we cringe when some of the relievers are brought in, and as expected, they manage some how to load the bases and then get that third out. Keep that up and anything is possible.

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  13. Nothing makes me happier than seeing Yordan rip a home run his first time up, then rip a double and scoring on a Bregman hit and walking and scoring on Yuli’s first homer in 2+ months….. unless it is Kyle Tucker ripping a 2 run homer…..unless its Aledmys Diaz coming back from the IL and getting two hits and being robbed of another one…..unless its Hunter Brown pitching through a little more troubles and still efficiently making it through 6 strong innings….unless its seeing Pressly in his second game back striking out the side in the ninth.

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    • It is games like the one last night that make the ‘chief cynic’ job on this blog so difficult. Aledmys came back strong and contributed. La Pina slammed the door shut with a 2-run screamer. Even Frenchy Dubon got an extra-base hit!

      I choose, therefore, to focus on Jeremy Pena’s 0-5 performance, with 2 Ks (one with the bases loaded) and a GIDP. Ouch!

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      • Here I’ll help you out some Mr. Bill – we aren’t going to see Hutchinson or Chafin in the playoffs, unfortunately. There is your glass half empty moment from the original glass half empty guy.

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      • Out of respect for the opponents we are facing, I have hesitated to bring up the fact that the team we are playing right now in Detroit isn’t … well, hmmmn – how can I put this delicately … let’s just say the guys the Tigers F.O. has been sending out to face our heroes this week aren’t exactly anybody’s pick to win the WS.

        But now that you mention it, Steven …

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  14. That was a good baseball game again last night. I think I was more impressed with Brown than I was with his first start. He had a hard time locating the breaking ball and did have to use the whole park a couple of times, but he worked his way through trouble, not allowing a big inning to develop without his best stuff.

    And for goodness sakes, Yuli did hit a homer, a significant one! Is he just teasing us, or does he really have a hot streak in him that will last into October?

    Our good fortune is amazing. As Astro fans, we’re sitting here in mid September already counting on a first round bye and wondering which quality pitcher(s) might not make a post season roster even as our offense starts hitting home runs again. Things could be worse Mr. Bill!

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  15. Another thing I have really enjoyed about Hunter Brown is that for a young pitcher he has pitched pretty efficiently. He had 6 Ks, 2 walks a few hits – he got into a bit of trouble, but he still finished 6 innings with 82 pitches – I think he was around the same point in his first start.

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      • I wouldn’t get too down on yourself on that Steven. From his minor league stint, his control / pitch count would be the one thing you would be most concerned with heading to the bigs.
        – Is it just a matter of small sample size and he will fall off later?
        – Is it just that he is really, really concentrating on this part of his game?
        – Did he have worse control numbers in the minors because he was “working” on things – trying to develop his secondary pitches?
        – The part we don’t know is how much having the major league coaches involved and the major league catcher calling pitches affects where this is headed. Does a Maldy more quickly size up what is working in his repertoire in a particular game and adjust faster?
        In the end with the kind of stuff he has, control is the most critical thing for him to get a handle on to be more like his hero JV.

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      • Until we get 50-75 innings I’m not ready to make any judgements on his pitching other than to say it’s been enjoyable to watch. There are a lot of times where in MiLB games the team will decide not to throw a guy fastballs or effectively intentionally walk a guy when they get to 2-0 on the count. You also have to allow for guys knowing that they need to get strikeouts or they won’t be in a green cell on the spreadsheet…which causes them to try to make perfect pitches or simply pitch to contact on guys who are overmatched.

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  16. We are winning despite the fact that we have a sub .300 OBP from the 2 spot in the batting order. Whether its Pena, Gurriel, it’s weird.

    Most teams have moved to having their best hitter batting second. Judge, Trout, lots of guys are spending time in the 2 hole, and we are playing 2005 style let the 2 hole be an automatic out. Hey if it was 1987 we could have the 2 hole guy bunting a lot, there is that I guess.

    Maybe in the playoffs we can get a steady diet of Bregman in the 2 hole, somebody with some OBP. If Mancini is in left and Chas is in CF, that wouldn’t be completely abandoning the bottom of the order – for their inconsistencies they can run into one (as can Aledmys).

    I’m more concerned about the offense in the playoffs than recent seasons. Pena is not Correa. Gurriel isn’t Gurriel anymore. Pitchers are going to be able to game plan working around Altuve, Alvarez and Tucker and navigate the rest of the lineup. They can pitch their way to wins in the regular season but in the playoffs they are going to have to string some things together. Bregman’s performance is going to be a huge factor. Getting something big from an unexpected source – say 3 HRs in a series from a guy like Pena who certainly won’t be lacking confidence and is capable – could be what moves the needle.

    As a fan I am more anxious for this playoff season than any before it because I don’t want to see this incredible pitching clinic they have put on all season lose another world series because we just can’t scrap it out in the 8th inning of a 2-1 game.

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    • Or let me put it another way – I don’t want to see Garcia, Urquidy or Framber get had in a game, be out by the 3rd, be behind 4-0 and feel the desperation that this game is over, before it even started. I don’t want to see Soler’s homer again and think its over. This offense doesn’t give me much hope right now.

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    • Steven, we’d all like additional offense, but I don’t think anyone will be able to work around Alvarez with Bregman and Tucker coming up. That’s the good news, especially as our big man seems to be awakening! Losing Brantley in the two slot was unfortunate, but we’re just going to have to get some production from Pena and Yuli. I’d consider Vazquez or Diaz there, but how many starts will either guy get? And I don’t think we’re going to see anything new from Dusty Baker in the lineup department, except maybe Frenchy in front of Yordan. I say that only half seriously.

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  17. While Hunter Brown is the #1 prospect in the Astros system, he is the 71st prospect in the majors…..C’mon man, I know those ratings give more credence to the younger guys and at 24 Hunter is not that, but there are not 70 better prospects than him out there. I don’t believe it.

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    • If Hunter can keep pitching the way he is now – especially as the level of competition he faces improves – I will suggest his uni number be changed to read ’71?’ Hey, something like that seems to be working for Abreg.

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  18. The 2022 Astros record against likely or possible playoff teams
    – Cleveland – 4-3
    – White Sox – 4-3
    – Atlanta – 1-2
    – Mets – 4-0
    – Yankees – 5-3
    – Seattle – 12-7
    – Blue Jays – 2-4

    So they should at least be competitive. Anything can happen in a short series as we know, but they have a lot of playoff experience on this roster.

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    • When the Astros left NYC after splitting their 4-game series with the Yanks on June 26th they were 45-27. The Yanks were 53-20 and 7.5 games in front of Houston.
      Since then, Houston has gone 47-23, and the NYY have gone 32-36. NYY trail Houston by 6.0 games for the best record in the AL.
      Soon, the Astros will get their ace starting pitcher back.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Yainer Diaz hasn’t played in almost two weeks after being called up to the majors. Can you imagine how much this guy is learning from the coaches and players on the Astros? The fact they are keeping him on the team and not playing him since seeing him DH for one game and catching for one inning in the next, tells me they have plans for him in 2023.
    Pretty sure Broccamonte, Vasquez, Maldonado, Aledmys, and Gurriel are working with this guy all the time.

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  20. No Alvarez in the lineup today, Dusty being Dusty.

    Meanwhile, across other ballparks, why are teams pitching to Judge? They should “Barry Bonds” him now. Maybe MLB has ordered them to pitch to him.

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    • Got my answer Sore hand issues still.

      Can’t fault Alvarez. I have arthritis in my throwing hand now and it does affect me…

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  21. Just to confirm some of the above comments on Hunter Brown. I have a very little knowledge of another minor league pitcher. His instructions from his coach or manager – “When you throw a pitch you can’t command or just doesn’t feel right to you, keep throwing that pitch over and over until you can command it.” So it would appear the minor league games are just “scrimmages” before the season starts.

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  22. Excellent job by Hensley to lead off the 5th against Wentz. Took him to 9 pitches, and drew a leadoff walk. That put Wentz over 90 pitches with the top of the order coming up, so he got pulled. We wound up manufacturing a run without a hit [Hensley BB, Altuve BB, Pena SAC, Breggy SacFly].

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was a fun at bat to watch Mr. Bill – take the bad pitches, foul off the really good ones and Hensley starts the rally. Javier is pitching very well through five, just one hit and no walks. Enjoyed watching Tucker hang in against the lefty and hit another home run.
      And its always fun to listen to the very extroverted Lance McCullers talking from the dugout during the game.

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  23. Chas Mc makes a real nice play going all the way back to the fence 423 ft away from home plate in the 8th to save a run and gets rewarded by being moved to left field and being replaced by Dubon, who I don’t think gets to that ball in the 8th.
    Don’t ask me.

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  24. We won that game with a great combo of excellent pitching, power and small ball, and strong defense. Little things went a long way. Now let’s pretend we did that against a good team instead of the Tigers.

    Whatever … it goes down as a W.

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  25. This team’s staring pitching … just ‘wow’. I I have never seen seen a rotation this good seven pitchers deep – have any of you?

    Whatever happens from here in out, remember 2022 as the year of Verlander, Valdez, McCullers, Javier, Garcia, Urqidy, and Brown. And remember that a guy with the incredible stuff of Bryan Abreu was relegated to a minor bullpen role.

    Tomorrow I’ll go back to shrugging my shoulders over our less than stellar offense, so as to earn my salary as ‘chief cynic’ on this blog. But for today, I Ouse to salute possibly the best/deepest rotation I have ever seen, on any club.

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  26. What he said : Yordan Alvreaz has a sore hand.
    What he meant: Yordan Alvarez is the keystone of our offense, and if there is any team out there that is so bad that we don’t need him in the line-up to notch a win, it is the 2022 Detroit Tigers. So we decided to rest his precious hide. Next question?

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  27. It seems to me that Dusty Baker pissed Yordan Alvarez off by holding him out of the game after Yordan has finally snapped out of his slump.
    Dusty doesn’t have much ground to stand on here because he is the one who told the press something which wasn’t true, according to the guy who actually has the hands out there on the end of his arms.
    Seems to me, the Astros need to get together and talk about this, because they almost lost that game today while their best hitter sat on the bench fuming.

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    • Don’t know what to say except that we hope this does not become a caustic issue. Yordan needs to be playing 6 of 7 days unless something is wrong. As for Dusty, this sure doesn’t surprise me.

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  28. If the Yordan -Dusty hand controversy is the biggest such issue of the season in Astroland, then I think we’re still a pretty boring group in comparison to most. I doubt it’s the big mess Chandler Rome is making it out to be. I’m pleased that Yordan is stepping up and clarifying an issue that pertains to him personally. I hope he’s pissed off when he steps in tonight.

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    • I think this is the difference between MLB managers giving information to reporters in response to questions and the NFL injury reporting. We tend to confuse the two. In the first, the manager is not required to say anything and may not be able to speak to certain health conditions. In the latter, because of Las Vegas’ control and influence over the league, teams must accurately report injuries and conditions that might keep a player out of an upcoming game. Regardless, what Baker said through Rome sounds correct. The Astros aren’t going to rest a DH to keep him healthy and fresh for the playoffs. They’re going to give him rest to make sure he doesn’t aggravate the injury from which he’s recently recovered or develop new ones. I would also suspect the interpreters can come into play here where there are misunderstandings as well.

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  29. It has been interesting watching parts of the Blue Jays games recently. Their hitters lineup is very impressive. But what caught my eye is in the late innings, they use a “defensive replacement” for Springer in centerfield. (At least that is how the announcers describe it.)

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