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Hey guys, it’s Ari Alexander, and now that the trade deadline is over - the Astros can start working to optimize their lineup and bullpen with their new additions. Don’t expect a whole lot to change, but the Astros are in a stronger position now than they were before Aug. 2. For this newsletter, I’m going to dive into some of the fans’ hottest questions right now. Some have answers, some don’t.
The Astros formulated a three-team trade and gave away defensive wizard Jose Siri just for 1B/LF Trey Mancini. Mancini quickly gained Astros fans trust by hitting 3 home runs in his first week as an Astro. Then he just, sort of, stopped playing. Mancini made three straight starts to end the Cleveland series, but when the Astros came home to face Texas, he wasn’t in the lineup Tuesday night against Martin Perez. He wasn’t in the lineup again Wednesday night, prompting some fan backlash (especially when Yuli Gurriel went 0-5 and Mancini clocked a hit in his pinch hit appearance). Mancini is finally in the lineup Thursday, but his usage has been odd so far.
WHAT’S UP WITH MICHAEL BRANTLEY?
Michael Brantley has missed the past 6 weeks with a shoulder injury. It’s been mysterious and the Astros haven’t given away a whole lot more than saying he can’t swing a bat yet. Astros bench coach Joe Espada finally revealed a bit more Wednesday, saying Brantley was away from the ballpark to receive a second opinion on his injury.
Earlier in the week, James Click said on SportsTalk 790 the team would have to be “honest” about the situation, striking some fear that Brantley may not return at all.
WHAT TO DO WITH WILL SMITH?
So far, Will Smith has been getting his feet wet with the Astros more than anything and has looked like the reliable lefty reliever he’s been for years. Smith won’t have a lead role in Houston’s bullpen, taking some of the pressure off he had in San Francisco and Atlanta.
Smith led MLB in games finished in 2021, but has struggled this year with a spiked hits per 9 rate. His sample size with the Astros is too small to make any judgments, but I do know he hasn’t had “the meeting” yet. I spoke with Smith on Wednesday and asked if the Astros had done “the meeting” - where Houston shows a new pitcher his video and gives detailed pitching advice based on analytics. Smith said it’s coming up but hasn’t happened yet. The Astros are famous for those sessions, specifically optimizing Gerrit Cole (”throw a 4-seamer high in the zone vs. a sinker low in the zone”) and Ryan Pressly (”you have 96th percentile fastball spin and 100th percentile curveball spin, how are you not striking everyone out?”)
Based on current bullpen usage and success, Smith slots in as maybe Houston’s 4th or 5th most important reliever behind Pressly, Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek and possibly Hector Neris. Houston’s bullpen depth is near unmatched in MLB.