If or when the Astros qualify for the postseason — 90% odds following Friday’s loss — I am not particularly concerned about seeing Maurcio Dubón patrolling center field even if Justin Verlander is on the mound. Other than an injury to one or both of Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers, Dubón’s role is firmly situated as the backup infielder, primarily to Jose Altuve. But Dusty Baker has preferred having Dubón in center field in the regular season last year and this year when Verlander starts for some reason or another. It didn’t make much sense then and still doesn’t now, especially with a healthy Meyers on the roster.
In a game with Kyle Tucker out due to illness against a talented Mariners’ pitching staff, I hoped Houston would maximize their lineup as much as possible. Even with his flaws against right-handed pitchers, as a hitter, Meyers offers a better opportunity to succeed compared to Dubón. I mean, both players are dreadful against right-handed pitchers. Both are roughly 30% below league average on the season. But at least Meyers offers more power in the bottom half of a lineup. In the outfield, Meyers is also a better defensive player than Dubón. It makes too much sense. Alas, Baker chose Dubón for center field once again with a division title not assured this season.
It is little decisions like this one that I find myself increasingly irritated with the Astros this season. Again, a division title in 2023 isn’t a guarantee. Am I possibly making too much of playing Dubón over Meyers? Probably. But the Rangers are for real. The Mariners are also for real, especially if their lineup produces with that pitching staff. Sometimes divisions are won and lost on the margins. Houston isn’t capitalizing on the margins this season and we’re witnessing the repercussions.
Friday’s game felt winnable throughout all nine innings. Yes, J.P. France surrendered some hard contact, but only two mistakes led to runs across six innings. Led both teams with 11 whiffs. Kendall Graveman and José Urquidy threw three scoreless innings. One walk compared to 11 strikeouts. Overall, the pitching staff did its job. France, in particular, continues his strong debut season.
12th quality start for the rookie. pic.twitter.com/BtIfdA4n7x— Houston Astros (@astros) August 19, 2023
Unfortunately, the lineup had a rough day at the office. Yanier Díaz had the only multi-hit game along with the lone extra-base hit for the Astros. Chas McCormick, Jon Singleton, Peña, Dubón, and Maldonado were a combined 0-for-15 with no walks. Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez picked up the other two hits. Alvarez had the only walk in the game for Houston. The lineup, in other words, was anemic. It doesn’t matter which inning you tuned into, odds were high that you weren’t missing much in terms of action.
Thankfully, the Astros didn’t lose ground to the Rangers, who lost to the Brewers Friday night. Only 2 1⁄2 games separate the two. But Seattle now only trails Houston by 2 1⁄2 games. Deserved or not, every advantage that is taken or not will be under the magnifying glass. Friday’s decision to start Dubón in the grand scheme probably doesn’t mean much, especially watching how the rest of the lineup struggled. That said, it felt like the Astros didn’t try to maximize every advantage that their roster offers.