Opening Day win streak snapped
All good things must come to an end, sooner or later. The Astros’ ten-game win streak on Opening Day — tied with the 1887-96 Boston Beaneaters for the longest in MLB history — as a member of the AL is no different. It was also the first time since 2011 that Jose Altuve, currently out with a fractured right thumb, wasn’t manning second base on Opening Day. Bill Hall was the last second baseman not named Altuve to start at the position for the Astros for their season opener. It feels like a lifetime ago, right?
Oh, well, it is still better to celebrate another championship than an Opening Day win.
When the Astros re-signed Rafael Montero to a three-year, $34.5 million contract, it felt like an overpay at the time considering the right-hander’s lack of a dependable track record. It possibly remains an overpay; I’d venture to think so, even with the current rate for an above-average reliever has increased. But the spending explosion this past offseason has put this contract in a bit of a different light, albeit still an interesting decision about where to devote monetary resources. There are four guarantees in life: Life, taxes, reliever volatility, and death.
The number to care about for Montero on a per-season basis — $11 million AAV — won’t single-handedly sink a club’s payroll today or in the near future. But I do wonder if Montero will be able to completely replicate his impressive 2022 season. It wasn’t off to a great start last night when he threw this meatball to Yasmani Grandal in the eighth inning.
A sizeable part of Montero’s success was derived from throwing his four-seam fastball consistently higher in the zone and less in the middle. Yesterday, he threw five four-seam fastballs out of his ten pitches overall, and not one was particularly high in the zone. If the pitch was high, it was well off the plate. That said, it is extremely too early to draw any conclusions from a ten-pitch showing on Opening Day. But it is something to monitor for Montero, in my opinion, as his lack of a successful track record magnifies, fairly or not, any struggles he may encounter in 2023.
Bottom Half of the Lineup
Frankly, no one in the lineup was having much success against Dylan Cease considering how well he threw the ball on Opening Day. But the hope for the Astros was to generate something resembling run support in the later innings against the White Sox bullpen, which they had their chances. Unfortunately, the bottom half of the lineup — Yainer Díaz, Jake Meyers, Martín Maldonado, and Mauricio Dubón — previewed the instances when the absence of Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley would hurt the most. An overall 1-for-13 showing with five strikeouts from the previously mentioned quartet was a glaring issue last night.
Without Altuve and Brantley hitting high in the order, Houston’s lineup becomes much shorter. While the top half remains potent, the bottom half won’t scare many pitchers. Again, as I mentioned earlier with Montero, it is too early to draw too many conclusions based on one game, especially for Díaz and Meyers, considering their lack of meaningful track records in the majors. I think the lineup looks deeper when David Hensley and Chas McCormick are both in it, but I understand the rationale for having Dubón play second behind a groundball-oriented pitcher like Framber Valdez. But until the Astros get healthier, this lineup will occasionally struggle to score runs in maddening ways.