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Notes at the Quarter Mark

Syndication: The Courier-Journal By Pat McDonogh/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

(Written before the result of last night’s game)

Over the course of 162 games, one can be forgiven for thinking: what does one game really matter anyway? or even, what’s one bad week after all? But baseball is life, and each day one chugs along, becoming what one will be. So too in baseball: every year one thinks that one week and May doesn’t matter, but then looks up in July, and all of a sudden one’s team is a seller, or a buyer, or neither, and thus it goes.

Having now played over 14 of the season, it’s time to take stock of a few things. I’ll put them into three categories: Who we thought they were, we’re better than we thought they were, and we’re worse than we thought they were. Let’s start with the last category

Worse than we thought they were

There were a lot of unknowns going into this season. For the most part, things have worked out thus far (27-16, nearly on pace for 100 wins). A few things have not:

  • The bench is terrible. Niko Goodrum seems like a lost cause. Aledmys Diaz has played in a lot of games because of injuries and Dusty’s caution. Diaz has warmed up a bit recently, but he’s still only sporting a wRC+ of 76 and has shown almost no power. He’s not 2017 Marwin but he’s also not the problem. Jason Castro is drawing walks but only hitting .103. Jose Siri has been the best bench player, although he feels like more of the other half of a same-handed platoon.
  • We kept the wrong lefty. Brooks Raley has been lights out, but Blake Taylor has struggled.
  • Post-season Maton only comes out in the postseason, apparently. Dusty has put Maton in a lot of high-leverage situations. His K rate was very promising last year, but been halved. The profile screams regression even though he looked like a late inning guy last October.
  • The catchers. I get it, who cares what they hit if they’re great with the staff. But Maldy’s hitting .116 and seems like the stronger-hitting half of our backstops.
  • The farm. Our lack of 40-man depth will hurt us. Joe Perez and JJ Matijevic seem not ready for prime time. There’s no middle IF in AAA who seems like he can step in. There are arms in AAA, but the results from Josh James, Jon Bermudez, Brandon Bielak, Shane Dubin, and Peter Solomon don’t exactly scream: call me up now!
  • Yuli Gurriel. The ageless wonder has started to appear... aged. Things look to be turning around, but the walk rate (3.5%) and lack of power (3 HRs) really lowers the margin for being an effective hitter at a position where hitting is expected.

Better than we thought they were

  • Jeremy Pena. What can one say? His sprint speed is higher than Myles Straw’s and he’s hit 7 HRs while playing stellar D. His emergence is the biggest development of the season so far, and it’s guys like Pena who make any talk of a closing window extremely premature. He looks like a future All-Star.
  • The CF duo. Most people wanted a free agent, but Chas and Siri have combined for 1.2 WAR and both have been league average at the plate.
  • JV. What a signing!
  • The middle relievers. Montero has moved up the pecking order by allowing 1 ER and Bryan Abreu has mostly thrown strikes resulting in a 35% K rate, an 8% walk rate, and a nice run of success despite a .385 BABIP against.

Who we thought they were

  • The rest of the staff. Yes, they’re not drooled over on the MLB Network or by national writers, but Luis Garcia, Christian Javier, and Framber Valdez are nasty, battle-tested, and unflappable. Framber keeps dialing up the ground balls, Garcia is showing that 2021 was no mirage, and Javier has proven to Dusty that he’s worth expanding the rotation to maximalize his win shares. Meanwhile, Urquidy and Odorizzi are better than almost any #5 starters in baseball. The dead ball has helped the fly ball tendencies of the staff, and the defense has caught everything hit their way (keep in mind I wrote this before the game last night)
  • Alex Bregman. He’s not going to hit 40 HRs in 2022, but he’s healed, running better, fielding at an elite level, and has posted a wRC+ of 129 despite a BABIP that indicates some un-luck. He looks exactly like we thought, a player who generates 4-6 WAR/season and who does it all. This is a huge revelation/confirmation
  • The rest of the top 6 of the lineup. The Astros have the most Fangraphs WAR of any group of everyday players. Tucker and Alvarez look even better than last year. Altuve is still in his prime, and Brantley has evolved into an elite contact hitter who still draws walks despite being less of a power threat. Collectively they take good at bats, put the ball in play and still have a top 4 offense (116 wRC+) despite Yuli’s struggles, Tuck’s slow start, a black hole at catcher, and 45 very unfortunate PAs from Niko Goodrum.
  • The back of the pen: Stanek, Pressly, Montero, and Neris have given up 11 ER in 60 innings. They’ve been really good, and when one guy has needed to rest, the others have all filled that high leverage role. Nobody even remembers that Pedro Baez was on this team.

Conclusion

Given the slow start, the devastating loss of Correa, the injuries to Meyers and McCullers, and the sunk cost of Pedro Baez, there were reasons to believe that the Astros could fall back closer to the pack. The Angels may sustain a 100-win pace, but this Astro team seems eerily similar to the 2017-21 edition that has proven to be a very tough out in the playoffs.