The Astros go into Minnesota 1-1 in the ALDS. That might seem disappointing, but considering the ongoing issue of the Astros starting pitching in the second half of the season, it's not surprising.
None of the starters have been consistently good. To suddenly expect a 2022 level of consistency is unrealistic. Despite shaky command, Justin Verlander toughed his way to six shutout innings, setting up the Game One win.
But if inconsistency is the hallmark of Astros starting pitching, we could have expected bad Framber Valdez in Game Two. Since August 8th, Valdez has had a 4.29 ERA, with two scoreless outings, but three outings where he allowed six runs. That’s the Framber we got Sunday, and the Astros lost.
That loss really has the Astros on the ropes because today, the Astros send their most unreliable starter, Cristian Javier, up against the Minnesota ace and Astros nemesis, Sonny Gray.
Javier looked like he needed to be sent back to the minors mid-season of this year, but he regained some footing in September, posting a 4.11 ERA in six starts. Still, he only accrued 30 innings in those starts and allowed four earned runs in two. He shut out the D-Backs on the last day of the season when they had clinched their Wild Card position and played their reserves.
Still, if inconsistency is the key, then maybe today, good Javier pitches and the Astros’ road bats show up against Gray.
If the Astros falter today (or even if they win), they’ll probably rely on some combination of J.P. France and Jose Urquidy tomorrow, and again, we're back to the crap tables. If the Stros win today, the tandem goes for the series victory. If the Astros lose one in Minnesota, it returns to Houston with Verlander and the AStros facing the inscrutable Pablo Lopez again.
Please, Dusty, don’t be tempted to pitch Verlander tomorrow on short rest. We were horrified by the tragic ending to that show in 2019 when Justin was four years younger, and the rerun would be too traumatizing for Astros fans still suffering PTSD from that agonizing playoff run.
Frankly, I don’t see the Astros as favorites in any of the three possible games ahead. That doesn’t mean they can’t win; I just don’t like the odds or the matchups, even Game 5. People say Verlander is a Hall of Famer. Yes, but if he pitched his whole career like he’s been pitching this year, he wouldn’t be any more than a MOR guy.
But in baseball, more than any other sport, “any team, on any given day, can beat any other team.” Just ask the D-Backs. Or the Dodgers. Or the Rangers. Or the Orioles. I’d rather be in our position right now than Los Angeles or Baltimore (both 0-2), teams with considerably better regular season records than the Astros. Even the Braves are in no better position than the Stros.
So far in this series, almost all the offensive production has come from Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve. Kyle Tucker, Jose Abreu, and Alex Bregman have to hit; otherwise, even a good pitching performance might not be enough.
Here’s the lineup. I'm going to play that old broken record again. How the Hell does Dusty put Yainer Diaz at DH and bench Michael Brantley? Especially with Sonny Gray, whose only weakness this year is against left-handed hitters. (Credit to Clack)
Plus, Diaz has a 57 wRC+ as a DH and, thanks to Dusty, hadn’t hit in 11 days before Sunday’s pinch-hit appearance. That record as DH is in 144 PA’s, a not insignificant sample size. And we all know how consistently good Brantley is. On the other hand, Diaz hits 170 wRC+ as a catcher, whereas Maldonado, in this age of universal DH, might as well be the pitcher at bat.
Maldonado is supposedly a pitcher-whisperer behind the plate. Really? Could Valdez have been any worse with Diaz catching than he was Sunday with Maldonado? On July 2, when Javier gave up eight runs to Texas in four innings, it wasn’t Diaz behind the plate.
Those who hoped Dusty would play his strongest lineup in the playoffs underestimated his stubbornness. How could he play Diaz where he could actually help the team when he didn’t do so all year? That would amount to an admission that he was wrong the whole time.
And you know what else? Now Diaz can’t even pinch-hit for Maldonado.
Today, I’m okay with Dubon in Center. Chas is a little cold lately, and Dubon has had a strong finish to a good season.
Here’s the lineup.
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