James coming off IL; Maldonado ready to go

September 29th, 2020

Astros manager Dusty Baker said hard-throwing right-hander Josh James will be activated from the injured list and will be on the team’s roster for the American League Wild Card Series against the Twins. James went on the IL this past Friday for undisclosed reasons, but he threw at Target Field during Monday’s voluntary workout in Minneapolis.

James has appeared in 13 games (two starts) for the Astros this season, posting a 7.27 ERA. But in his past five appearances (all in relief), he has thrown six scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk with seven strikeouts (.111 opponents’ average, 0.50 WHIP). Baker is hoping James can neutralize some of the right-handed bats in the Twins' lineup.

“It’s very important,” Baker said. “They have a couple of switch-hitters, five or six right-handed hitters and another five or six left-handed hitters. It’s very important that we’re strong on the right side of our bullpen.”

The Astros have yet to finalize their 28-man roster for the Wild Card Series. The rosters have to be submitted by 10 a.m. CT Tuesday, and Baker said he was going to meet with the front office late Monday to settle on a roster.

Maldonado will be in Game 1 lineup
Astros catcher said he’s healthy and ready to go after missing the final two games of the regular season when he twisted his knee on the final play of Friday’s game against the Rangers. Maldonado was on the ground for a few moments after he caught a throw from infielder Jose Altuve and tried to awkwardly swing around and make a tag at home.

“I could have played the next day, but just because the Angels lost [which clinched a playoff spot for Houston], I felt like I’d take a couple of days and get 100 percent healthy and get ready for [Tuesday],” Maldonado said.

Maldonado has been a workhorse for the Astros this year, starting 46 of 60 regular-season games behind the plate. When asked how he was holding up after catching so many innings, Maldonado bristled at the idea that he could be a little bit tired.

“It’s 60 games,” Maldonado said. “We’re used to playing 162 games. At the catcher position, you get more tired mentally than physically. Overall, I feel great. I’ve prepared myself really good last offseason and during the break. I don’t think I’ve played enough, because we’re used to playing 120, 130 games every year as a catcher. This is just the beginning.”

Last hurrah for Astros’ core?

This year’s playoffs could mark the final postseason ride for Houston’s core position players that have led the team to five playoff appearances in the past six years, including four in a row. That run included winning the 2017 World Series championship, and the Astros came within eight outs of winning another World Series last year.

Center fielder George Springer, second baseman Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Josh Reddick have each appeared in 50 playoff games since 2015 (though not all of Reddick’s were with Houston). The only player to have appeared in more postseason games in that time frame is the Dodgers’ Justin Turner (52).

Third baseman Alex Bregman and first baseman Yuli Gurriel came along a tad later for Houston and have each played in 44 postseason games. Springer, Gurriel and Reddick will be free agents at the end of the season, and it’s not likely that the Astros will bring all of them back. Altuve and Bregman are at the start of long-term contracts with Houston, and Correa is under control through the 2021 season.

“These guys have been through the wars, so to speak,” Baker said. “I’m sure that’s been on their minds. I’ve been a free agent. … This is an opportunity not only to shine for us and the city of Houston, but to shine for the world. These guys have been on this stage many, many times, and it’s going to help them and help us.”

Bregman hopes the group can remain together

“I love all those guys and I really hope and wish the best for them,” Bregman said. “I hope that’s here in Houston with us.”