The Astros have the best starting rotation in baseball. They are also a plus-level defense (outside of the catcher spot) and have a solid, if unspectacular bullpen. While their top six guys in the batting order aren't exactly tearing the cover off the ball and aren't on pace to be where they were last season, they are still quite good.
Yet, the Astros have struggled lately, especially against the better teams in both leagues. The only series they have won against teams over .500 are the A's and the Mariners. They are also near the bottom of the league in average with runners in scoring position and don't have their trademark late-inning swagger that made them so dangerous last season.
The fact is their bats at the bottom of the order are a significant problem and need to be addressed if not immediately, then soon. It is unlikely GM Jeff Lunhow will call up minor league phenom Kyle Tucker anytime soon, both because he may not quite be ready for the bigs and also to preserve years of arbitration-free contract time with the team. That could mean a trade or some other moves, but something will need to be done. Here's our rankings of the urgency of the main guys populating spots 7 through 9.
.234/.331/.333 - 2 HR, 34 SO, 111 ABs
Urgency Level: DEFCON 3
No one gets below a DEFCON 3, but Gonzalez is the one guy that we worry about the least. This isn't to say we think he is suddenly going to start throwing up eye-popping numbers. There's a good chance his breakout season last year was an anomaly and this season (closer to his 2016 numbers) is a bit of regression to the mean. Gonzalez is a valuable switch-hitting utility man, but he really shouldn't be part of an everyday lineup unless he routinely hits ninth where you can hide his struggles.
.179/.217.393 - 2 HR, 28 SO, 56 ABs
Urgency Level: DEFCON 3
A 50 percent strikeout rate is beyond horrific (though he isn't alone here...more on that in a moment), but Fisher is young and his outrageous speed makes him an asset. He may need to go down to the minors to work on his swing. The Astros probably aren't going to give up on him yet, but his rope is definitely getting shorter.
.153/.164/.306 - 3 HR, 36 SO, 72 ABs
Jake Marisnek (right) makes a better late-inning defensive replacement than an everyday outfielder.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Urgency Level: DEFCON 2
Batting .153 with a .164 on-base percentage shouldn't really even qualify you for any playing time on a major league roster, let alone one with designs on repeating. But Marisnick is the best defensive outfielder on the team and a valuable late-inning pinch runner as well. Unfortunately, at the moment, the Astros don't have too many other options in the outfield, so Marisnick and his 50 percent strike out rating is often in the nine hole for the Stros. As a late-inning defensive replacement, Marisnick is an ideal fit. As an everyday outfielder, he looks very overmatched.
.186/.263/.279 - 1 HR, 29 SO, 86 ABs
Urgency Level: DEFCON 1
We may be rapidly nearing an end to the Gattis era in Houston. His only job at DH is to hit the ball, preferably with power, and he can't do either at the moment. And his strikeout numbers, given what the other guys at the bottom of the lineup are doing, are game stoppers. Gattis, who has been a stalwart catcher for this team, may have his resume soon change from Designated Hitter to Designated for Assignment.