Inbox: Are Astros feeling the pressure?

Beat reporter Brian McTaggart answers fans' questions

August 13th, 2018

HOUSTON -- When I reached out on Twitter on Sunday and asked readers to submit some questions for this week's Astros Inbox, I fully expected this kind of strong response. Getting swept at home in four games by the Mariners will do that.
More than 100 questions filled up my Inbox this week, and most were filled with angst. That's somewhat to be understood, considering the Astros' lead in the American League West is only 2 1/2 games over the A's, but the sky is not falling. So let's calmly open the Inbox and answer some of the more reasoned questions.
What is the feeling/mood in the clubhouse after all the injuries and getting swept by the Mariners? Are they panicking a little, or in general, are they confident about their chances to repeat? It feels to me like they are playing tight, but maybe that's because our expectations are so high this year.
-- Jay L., Los Angeles

Sure, the players are disappointed in the recent results, but there's no need to panic. The players still have faith in the team and its chances. The Astros are still in the driver's seat in the AL West and should win the division. You have to remember they have four players on the disabled list who have been on All-Star teams, including the reigning AL MVP Award winner in and the World Series MVP in . The Astros went through a rough patch last August and came out of it. That being said, the AL West is much better this year, and objects in Houston's rearview mirror may be closer than they appear. 
:: Submit a question to the Astros Inbox ::
As good as the Astros' offense has been statistically over the past two years, the team has scored fewer runs on a per-game basis at home. This is now Year 2 with the new batter's eye. Has there been any talk within the organization about what it could do to change that setup, whether it's changing the color or something else?
-- Aaron M., Houston

Not that I know of, but it wouldn't surprise me if the batter's eye was addressed. It's no secret the players don't like it, and there have been a few subtle changes to it. But you also have to remember, other teams have to hit at Minute Maid Park as well, and the Astros did score 13 runs against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series last year. I think the batter's eye is an issue, but not the only issue.
I see where Seattle closer practically demanded that manager Scott Servais insert him for the fourth straight game to get the save against the Astros on Sunday. It's apparent that Diaz, Servais and the rest of the Mariners realized the importance and urgency of the game. Astros manager AJ Hinch, on the other hand, doesn't appear to be the least bit concerned. It seems the players are following the lead of their manager. Perhaps Hinch should shake up the batting order to try to manufacture some runs and light a fire under his guys.
-- David L., Huntsville, Ala.

I wouldn't put too much stock in Hinch's demeanor in the three-minute postgame interviews you see on TV. Trust me, losing bothers him way more than it bothers the fans. What good would throwing a microphone or pushing over a table do? Nothing. Hinch has a psychology degree from Stanford and knows how to handle a room full of alpha males. We don't know what he does behind the scenes, but it's worked. He has a ring, while Servais' teams have underperformed. Plus, I don't know how you expect Hinch to shake up a batting order that doesn't include Altuve and Springer. Like do what, exactly? He only has 12 position players. I'd love to know what "shake up" the batting order means. Hit ninth? When they get healthy, the Astros' offense will return to form.
If I'm a fan, I'd rather have the manager be a calm presence who says, "We'll be fine," than one who sits at the microphone and pouts.
Why are the Astros being so sketchy about Altuve's knee? What is the injury, other than "discomfort?" Altuve couldn't even say if he'd had an MRI.
-- Malissa W., Houston

I hear you, Malissa. The Astros are very secretive with injuries, so I get the fans' frustration. The reporters share it, too. Maybe it's worse than they're letting on? Maybe they thought it wasn't too bad and it's not healing as quickly as they had hoped? Whatever the case, the longer Altuve is out, the more there is a cause for concern going forward.
Do you believe there is room for either or on a potential playoff roster? And if so, which pitchers would they leave off the roster to make room (if everyone is healthy)?
-- Logan K., Valley Mills, Texas

Considering the Astros wouldn't need as many pitchers in the postseason, there's room for perhaps two extra position players. Marisnick, I believe, is a lock when he's healthy, considering the defense he brings. We've seen him make a pair of amazing plays the past couple of weeks. Marisnick would have been on the playoff roster last year had he been healthy. White's got a shot because of his bat. Last year, Houston carried 11 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and five outfielders in the AL Division Series. It's hard to say at this point which relievers get pushed out.
There's some frustration among many fans with how the Astros' young guys and callups are doing. Some of these players have very few games played or at-bats. How long before we have a good idea what type of Major League player a guy is going to be?
-- Phil J., Corpus Christi, Texas

That's a tough question. I do know it's not fair to judge a player, especially a 21-year-old like on his first 100 plate appearances. I'd like to give him a half season of plate appearances (around 300) to get a better idea of where he's at. Even then, it's an inexact science. J.D. Martinez had nearly 1,000 plate appearances with the Astros before he was cut, and he blossomed into a star with the Tigers, D-backs and now the Red Sox.
One of the greatest things about the Astros is the positive and brother-like culture in the clubhouse. Bringing in , do you think the situation will affect the clubhouse culture and ultimately affect the team on the field?
-- Ryan D., Greenville, Texas

That's a fair question and not one that can be answered just yet. The players have been very diplomatic in their responses. Chemistry is key, but I find it hard to believe any players who aren't in favor of the Osuna acquisition are letting their feelings affect their play. We might not know the answer to this until much later. The Astros are struggling while Altuve, Springer,  and are on the DL. That's the biggest issue right now.
Considering the offensive struggles the team has had, do you see Houston making a late trade for a bat? Maybe a guy like Josh Donaldson to be the designated hitter? The trade helped spark the team last year, and maybe a late move could do it again.
-- Nick G., San Diego

We've seen some big trades made in August over the years, and the Astros pulled on off last year by landing Verlander, like you said. Trades are harder to make in August because any players who are traded first to have pass through waivers, but Donaldson is a good name to keep an eye on. So is of the Giants. My guess is, if Altuve is out for an extended period of time, Houston may try to add a bat.
Do you think the Astros will ever retire J.R. Richard's No. 50?
-- Jeremiah F., Syracuse, N.Y.

No, I think they've retired too many numbers as it is.