The first thing I thought of Sunday when the Astros held a 3-0 lead, is they better not take this as a sign that they can stay the course. There will be no statistical analysis here, just a man sharing observations and opinions on what this series truly meant to him.
A series split against Yankees appears to be a win for Astros fans. I will say it was great to see the quality of baseball we saw in this series. Our starting pitching performed outside of their minds and was let down twice by our bullpen. Our offense was present, but it continues to lack the spark or momentum that was the backbone of its success for the past 5 seasons. No matter how well the results appeared, the underlying concerns remain.
We must be realistic with expectations. Astros fans are spoiled. We have watched this franchise become the perennial favorites in the American League for 6 years now. They’ve advanced the 5 straight ALCS’s, won 1 of 3 World Series appearances, all of which has become the floor for this team. No matter what you say, this team has us all expecting a World Series title. We should relish that more than we do and recognize greatness when it’s present. It can be awfully painful to remember when the championship window closes.
After watching Pressly blow Thursday’s game and then to watch Aaron Judge walk it off yesterday, it should sting. Personally, it burns me up. It bothers me to watch Stanek thro 3 consecutive non-competitive pitches to Aaron Judge, then challenge him in a 3-0 count? Why? Just walk him at that point, or throw that triple digit fastball at the top of the zone after throw 3 straight splitters down? Did it not stand out how we found ourselves with Aledmys Dìaz and Mauricio Dubòn in the outfield during the bottom of the 10th inning? I don’t quite see how that’s a prime situation when facing the extra inning rules. I know none of us missed Jason Castro throwing it wildly to 2nd base allowing a runner to advance as well. Although it wasn’t the reason we lost, it was an error nonetheless that could’ve contributed to a loss.
The question I have for everyone is, where do we go from here? The front office must ask themselves if this team can win in the postseason as currently constructed? That’s if everyone is healthy for the postseason. There is clearly a case to seek a left-handed relief pitcher at the deadline, as our two options are facing elbow injuries. Yuli Gurriel may have finally met father time, and it’s clear there is something to be addressed with the 1st base position. If Martìn Maldonado goes down, do we want to leave such a valuable role in the hands of Jason Castro? I know that sounds unfair to be this critical of Castro, but I’m also highlighting how important Maldonado is to fans. If the team and our pitchers are without their general, is the alternative acceptable? We also got a taste of what can happen on off days to our best relief pitchers. There is no harm in bringing in another reliever with pedigree to solidify the bullpen. It also helps mitigate the lack of availability of arms, which we faced yesterday due to how pitch counts and outings in the prior games. We also must find our everyday centerfielder, because we are still working to find out who these young men are and if they can fill that spot. Consider the fact most of them are not highly drafted prospects and the ceiling for that position seems to be low.
It's clear to me that our farm system is reaching a point of depletion. We have seen the front office make moves to expose some of our minor leaguers to MLB talent. JJ Matijevic, Enoli Paredes, Brandon Bielak and Seth Martinez are all names that arrived this season that seem to indicate there is interest to move them by the deadline. The days of a deep minor league system are gone. Korey Lee has flashed but his current performance at Triple-A has been lackluster. Pair this with the rise of Yanier Diaz and we begin to have more questions than answers. Forrest Whitley is at Single-A pitching for the first time since 2021. The only top pitching prospect is Hunter Brown, and the argument is made that he’s untouchable based on the organization is approaching the pitching staff. Considering all of this, I believe this trade deadline and off-season are the most important to keeping the championship window open beyond 2023.
Larry has already highlighted some players the Astros should consider as trade targets to alleviate the roster ailments. This roster is bolstered by stars, but the struggles at 1st base, catcher and center field will continue to be a thorn in the side of this lineup. Our pitching staff is deep and talented, but consolidation is necessary to upgrade and resolve some 40-man roster concerns. Lastly, we have 3 utility fielders in the system, and it seems to be a bit of overkill to have that many. James Click expressed the deep interest in Mauricio Dubòn, so I believe it’s important to get him these reps as we look towards his role in 2023 as well.
The bar is set. The Astros are getting a preview of what can hinder their championship aspirations when facing true contenders. 5 and 7 games series tend to magnify our flaws. It’s not the most welcoming topic, but a necessary discussion as we approach July. It’s clear this team will win the AL West, so the three pivotal things to attack between now and the postseason is improving this roster now, improving your options for 2023, acquiring younger prospects to develop and integrate beyond 2023 and be sure everyone is healthy for a run at another World Series.