The Houston Astros’ quest for a second title in as many years will not be easy.
This team does have a history of starting slow, this is hardly a reason to be concerned. The Astros have shown resilience and the ability to rise out of the ashes of April like a phoenix rising to glory helping them capture six straight trips to the American League Championship Series, four trips to the World Series, and a pair of World Series titles.
The path back this season will come with bumps in the road, and this team will face adversity throughout the season. Going into the series with Minnesota many who follow the Astros’ every move through social media nearly went into meltdown mode.
In the first two games of the series against the Twins we saw the Astros strikeout for a record 32 times. So, fear, anxiety, and doubt set in many fans’ minds.
So what are the problem areas that need to be addressed this early in the season?
The Astros have a few players that are on the injured list, and they are not small pieces to the championship puzzle. Jose Altuve is one of the best players in Major League Baseball, Michael Brantley is one of the purest hitters in the game and a leader in the clubhouse, and Lance McCullers Jr. is — when healthy — has one of the most dominant curveballs in the game.
With that being said, we have already seen this team do things they aren’t accustomed to in recent years. So what are the real concerns early on?
- A lack of quality outings by starting pitchers which were plentiful in the 2022 season.
- Relief pitchers being overused and when called upon not keeping runs off the board.
- The offense has struck out at an alarming rate tied for the most in MLB.
- Young unproven players have to come in and fill the void.
With all these things present after their second win in a row on April 10th in Pittsburgh, the Astros have seemed to turn the corner a little. Hunter Brown and Framber Valdez both went seven innings for a combined 12 strikeouts and only three runs were given up behind an offense that did what they needed to do.
This has saved the bullpen and allowed them to map out the final two games in Pittsburgh before an off day and return home to Houston to take on the Texas Rangers.
The Astros’ offense is powered by what I think is the most prolific dynamic duo in MLB, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.
Their combined numbers are staggering as the duo have recorded 23 hits, four doubles, six home runs, and 27 RBI. Alvarez is also hitting .333 with a sluggling percentage of .639 and an OPS of 1.083. Tucker meanwhile is not far behind as he is hitting .282 with a slugging percentage of .564 and an OPS of .968.
These two monsters of H-Town are doing what they are paid to do, get hits and score runs. Along with contributions from surprise rookie hitting sensation, Corey Julks, the sky’s the limit with this offense when they are firing on all cylinders.
Not to mention Mauricio Dubon riding a six game-hitting streak going into the second game against the Pirates, and Jose Abreu set a club record for recording a hit in all of his first 10 games in an Astros uniform.
You do have to recognize that even though Yanier Diaz’s bat hasn’t contributed as much as you’d like, the team has a 3-0 record when he starts at catcher. Why would I bring this up? Is it time for him to replace Martin Maldonado?
Not at this point, but when your other backup rookie catcher is not getting many opportunities you need your third catcher to be a part of the success of this team.
Another thing you must look at is what I see in this team’s fight. They have scored 17 runs in innings 7-9 so far this year. So why is this important?
Well once this team is all healthy, when the big names are back, and the offense and pitching perform up to expectations. That late-inning scoring will come in handy, and quite a bit of it has been done with two outs.
The Astros are still the favorite to win the American League. They are banged up a little, but this team is built to last. We have before us a marathon not a sprint and the Astros know what it takes to win. Until they are taken out by another team in the postseason, they are the reigning World Series champions.
So, sit back and enjoy this ride. Don’t freak out when Alex Bregman is hitting below .250, or the Astros blow a game here or there. When you just think, Dusty Baker is trying to not put the best team on the field. The guys in that dugout know more than all of us combined.
What it takes to win, how to go about adversity, and how to take things one out at a time.
Brett Chancey is the co-host of the Locked on Astros Podcast. He can be followed on Twitter/Instagram @htownwheelhosue or @stros411 on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook.