Astros Week: Team Reaches Inflection Point as Altuve Gets to 2,000 Hits

Jose Altuve reached a huge milestone in his incredible baseball career.
Jose Altuve reached a huge milestone in his incredible baseball career. Photo by Jack Gorman
As has been the case with much of the season, the Astros have spent the last few weeks climbing their way back to challenge the Rangers in the AL West only to end it with a sickening thud. The roller coaster season continues.

The good news is the Rangers haven't been great lately. The bad news is that Mariners have tightening the division race to three games among all three teams. If you want to get even more nervous, the Blue Jays are right on the heels of the Mariners in the Wild Card race. As crazy as it sounds, the Astros could fall out of the playoff race entirely if they don't pull themselves together.

Jose Altuve reaches 2,000-hit milestone.

He became just the third Astro (Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell) to get to 2,000 hits and the youngest. Ironically, he attempted to extend his single into a double and was thrown out, almost identical to what Biggio did on his 2,000. Altuve has a chance to become the best Astros player of all time. Certainly his numbers will rival that of the Killer Bs and the titles are something he has all to himself. Despite some early injuries this year, he has returned to form and remains one of the best hitters in baseball.

Team meeting spurred by "slap in the face."

After getting swept by the Mariners at Minute Maid over the weekend, players held a team meeting, mostly led by catcher Martin Maldonado who called the sweep a "slap in the face." Maldonado said that the team needs more energy in the dugout and on the field. He's not wrong. With a handful of exceptions, the team has seemed listless for weeks, almost like they are waiting to turn it on for the playoffs. That, however, is not advisable given how close they are in the standings to challengers.

It also doesn't help that while Maldy is a leader in the clubhouse and a voice players respect, he is well behind Yainer Diaz in almost every category offensively and defensively yet still occupying the primary starting spot behind the dish. Everyone clearly needs to figure it out, Maldonado in particular.

Lineup changes among issues of consistency.

There is no one thing that can be pointed to as the cause of the Astros problems. Injuries were an issue, but that has sorted itself out for the most part. If there is one area to consider, it is the inconsistent lineup. Manager Dusty Baker has thrown a boatload of different ones out there throughout the year, moving some guys up and down depending on the situation. Lineup stability, whether that comes from good health or simply consistency from the manager, is important to players. This is no excuse for the poor and often streaky hitting, but it certainly can make a difference to some players.

Credit where credit is due, it seems Baker has gotten over his unwillingness to put lefties back-to-back and is finally putting Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker next to one another in the lineup.

Starting pitching is a problem.

It doesn't take a genius to see that the starters have been roughed up lately, but how bad has it been exactly? Check this from the Houston Chronicle:

Framber Valdez owns a 6.18 ERA in seven outings since the All-Star break after Seattle tagged him for six runs Saturday. In three starts since his no-hitter, Valdez has allowed 16 runs in 19⅔ innings. Cristian Javier, who will start Monday against Boston, has a 7.56 ERA in his last nine starts.

Justin Verlander has a 4.50 ERA in three starts since rejoining the Astros at the trade deadline. Through June, Astros starters compiled a 3.58 ERA, third lowest in the majors. They entered Sunday with a 4.67 ERA since July 1, the 10th-highest in baseball. That preceded Hunter Brown allowing six runs over 2⅔ innings in the shortest start of his rookie season.

Yeesh. It doesn't help that the fairly reliable bullpen has been pushed to its limits thanks to the lousy outings from starters, which is partly why the team called up Seth Martinez on Monday. Above all else, if the Astros cannot get their starting pitching figured out, even if they are to make the postseason, it could be a really short trip.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke