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The Second Half Of The Lineup Has Concerns

For the Astros, their greatest weakness is arguably the hitters behind the top four.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

As I wrote last week, if the Astros finish the postseason by hoisting their second title, it will likely be due to the success of their arms. There arguably isn't a pitching staff as deep as Houston's in 2022. Whether that reputation means anything in October is left to be seen as a short series can wreak havoc on pre-conceived notions about a club with triple-digit win totals. Don't look any further than the Mets-Padres series last weekend.

But the pitching staff can't do it all, regardless of how well it has performed this year. Sooner or later, the Astros will need their bats to step up, whether to open an early lead or when the opposition manages to post a crooked number in the box score. Thankfully, this roster does boast four hitters in its lineup that can carry its weight when all is right.

Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker in 2022

  • .280/.372/.516, 118 HR, 361 R, 11.9% BB%, 15.0% K%, 152 wRC+

With Game 1 against the Mariners scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, I am pretty curious to see the lineup configuration from Dusty Baker to kick off the ALDS. In a 162-game season, suboptimal lineup choices don't necessarily torpedo postseason aspirations, especially one as talented as Houston's. In a short series, it feels increasingly wasteful not to maximize the number of at-bats for your top four hitters. The only exception, consistent with Baker's decisions for large swaths of the season, is to bat Jeremy Peña second behind Altuve and ahead of Alvarez or Bregman. If his recent September resurgence carries into October, Peña's presence among the top five hitters in a lineup isn't much of an issue. It also manages to stretch the lineup a bit further. As it pertains to Tucker, he shouldn't bat any lower than fifth, which, unfortunately, was the case in previous instances throughout the season. This issue has thankfully become a lesser one in recent months.

The top of the Astros lineup is among the best in baseball when everything clicks. Even with Peña's roughly league-average bat added to the equation, those five hitters boast a 143 wRC+ as a group. However, the second half of the lineup has been the Achilles' heel for this roster for most of the season.

Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Díaz, Chas McCormick, Trey Mancini, and Mostly Everyone Else

  • .236/.294/.374, 82 HR, 316 R, 6.7% BB%, 20.3% K%, 90 wRC+

I thought it was rather telling when Baker didn't commit to Mauricio Dubón as the starting center fielder when Justin Verlander pitches. Instead, he brought up the need for "more offense." It is a step in the right direction, as the bulk of Dubón's value comes from his positional versatility and generally positive defensive metrics. As a late-inning replacement, I am okay with Dubón making an appearance. But you don't want to see him hitting in a crucial spot if other hitters are available. Of the players listed in my second query, Chas McCormick, the presumptive starter in center field, boasted the highest wRC+ on the season at 114. While his defensive value is arguably lower than Dubón's, I believe the difference to be relatively negligible once the offensive upgrade is considered. Jake Meyers is a possible alternative; however, his performance at the plate this season would make me think twice before inserting him into the lineup under any circumstance.

Other than the ongoing musical chair exercise in center field — seriously, when will it finally stop? — the Astros will need some production from the likes of Gurriel, Díaz, and Mancini to take some of the pressure off the top half of the lineup. Since August 2, Mancini's club debut, that trio has hit only .212/.262/.333 with 12 home runs and a 69 wRC+. Nothing nice about that performance. The odds are that each postseason game will feature at least two of the three in the starting lineup. If the top half goes cold against better pitching, which is certainly a possibility in the postseason, the latter half of the lineup will need to produce.