Reality Bites: The Astros offense bottoms out

Scott Pianowski
July 20, 2012

Once again we'll start with the disclaimer and slowly meander towards the point.

Understand up front, I love Houston. I've got a handful of super friends there, very nice people. I've rewatched Terms of Endearment (a terrific movie) several times. I've seen Reality Bites (a mediocre movie) a few times. Ball Four — a story that finishes in Houston — might be my favorite book of all time. Earl Campbell, Fred Couples, Clyde Drexler … count me in on all these guys. Let them play, let them play, let them play.

Back in April, I was in on the Astros offense, too — in a "sneaky, deep-league value" sort of way. But the story has spiraled out of control. The team as currently constructed absolutely can't hit a lick, and roto players need to take full advantage of this fact. Be ready, Stream Police.

San Diego righty Edinson Volquez was dominant in Thursday's turn, to the surprise of no one. Drawing the current Astros is always a good thing, especially in Petco Park. Volquez allowed just one hit (a cheap single) and three walks over a 117-pitch shutout. The Padres only scored one run themselves, but it felt like a 10-0 lead throughout.

The Astros ranked ninth in scoring through the first month of the year, but they've been off the rails since (25th, 20th, 29th). Only the Rangers (surprise, surprise) are breaking Houston's fall in July, in part because Texas has a games-played deficit. And if you look at July's percentage stats, the Astros are buried under 30 feet of snow: .197 batting average, .265 on-base percentage, .285 slugging percentage. No one's close to those levels of futility.

Some of this collapse could be short-term variance (Jose Altuve's slump will eventually pass), but we can't ignore the significant losses to the Houston lineup. Carlos Lee was shipped to Miami a few weeks ago and Jed Lowrie is on the shelf for 4-6 weeks. Neither player was going to make a ripple in the MVP vote, but they were two of the better sticks in this lineup, ownable in any mixed league.

Consider the pedestrian group that Volquez mowed down Thursday. Third baseman Scott Moore batted third: he of the .218/.250/.418 slash line this year and .646 career OPS. Invent a league for me where he would hypothetically have value. Matt Downs (career .231/.240/.407, and batting .195 this year) slotted fifth. In theory, this is where Lowrie and Lee might slot back in the good old days. Go through the lineup at your leisure, and dream about the five-hit shutout you'd throw against these guys (backyard Wiffle Ball delusions never die).

Management isn't making things any easier on manager Brad Mills. While much of the prospect luster has wiped off Brett Wallace, it's puzzling to see him still at Triple-A (slashing .304/.375/.507 with 14 homers) while the Astros desperately need offense. Why not bring Wallace back to Houston, see what he can do? He was productive during a brief June call-up.

The Astros head to Arizona for the weekend, then return home for a three-game set against Cincinnati. Here are the next six pitchers to face the Houston Hackers: Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. Formats and contexts will vary greatly, of course, but the streamers in the crowd should be able to find something of interest in that mix. Get your shopping cart ready.

Sticking with the Astros for a second, the club gave us one off-field item of interest Friday morning. Houston and Toronto completed a 10-player trade, albeit there isn't a lot of fantasy juice tied to the names.

Pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter head to the YYZ (and all to the bullpen, including Happ), while the Astros grab outfielder Ben Francisco, reliever Francisco Cordero, four initially-uninteresting pieces (RHPs Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski, lefty David Rollins ,catcher Carlos Perez) and a player to be named later. It seems like a lot to digest, but this deal won't have a big affect on standard mixed leagues.

If you were holding onto Lyon as a possible Brett Myers hedge, rip that ticket up. The dream is dead. Lyon won't be closing ahead of creamy-smooth Casey Janssen in Toronto. I suspect Cordero could be an instant-flip candidate for the Astros, though he could also inherit the ninth if Myers is the man they deal. Surely every veteran is on the block in Houston right now. Francisco is a typical fourth or fifth outfielder on a good club, but the Astros might need to run him out there as a semi-regular. He's shown a little pop and speed in the past, if your league is deep enough for that to matter.

The roster purge in Toronto had one other shoe to drop: post-hype kid Travis Snider has been recalled from Triple-A, where he was tearing the league up (.335/.423/.598, 13 homers). Perhaps this means the Blue Jays are worried about Brett Lawrie's calf problem, or maybe they're sick of Rajai Davis's bat in the lineup. Or maybe the Jays are just going to jerk Snider in and out of the lineup, as they've done many times before. Try to keep an open mind on this one; the kid is still just 24, and he was tabbed a can't-miss star just a few years back. You can't help but be a little bit curious.

I've been lukewarm on Cody Ross for most of the year, and it's starting to produce pangs of regret. Okay, Ross really isn't someone who has a skill set that demands play every day: he's a .248/.320/.458 hitter against right-handed pitching and an ordinary .253/.343/.451 bat on the road. But sometimes you can throw those numbers out the window, such as when Ross clocked this game-winning moonshot off Chicago's Addison Reed on Thursday night.

Ross now has three homers and nine RBIs over the last two days (16 and 50 for the season, respectively), and he also leads the AL in cocky bat flips. New England loves it; everyone else, not so much. Ross can still be added in 59 percent of Yahoo! leagues; why not ride him through the weekend at Fenway, where he rocks a 1.003 OPS?

Robin Ventura did everything he could to get platoon advantages going his way Thursday, but sometimes the percentages don't save you. Southpaw Matt Thornton allowed a couple of ninth-inning singles to lefty batters (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez); the 1-2 pitch to Crawford was a notable mistake. Ventura was obviously peeved when he removed Thornton from the game; I can't imagine the White Sox ever trusting Thornton as the primary save guy again.

Thornton wound up with the loss on his ledger, while Reed picked up a blown save for throwing the Ross gopher ball. Don't look in the rear view mirror, Chicago; the Tigers (1.5 games back) and Indians (3 games back) are hanging around in the AL Central.