Early impressions from Astros' split to start 2023

April 2nd, 2023

HOUSTON -- A season-opening four-game series split against the White Sox, capped by a 6-3 loss on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park that manager Dusty Baker categorized as an “ugly game,” certainly didn’t provide a big enough sample size to make any grand assumptions about the 2023 Astros.

The team will get healthier -- and presumably better -- as it gets deeper into the season and finds its footing offensively and on the mound. A slow start at the plate by (0-for-16), along with injuries to and , had the Astros struggling for run production at times this weekend, and the lack of a quality start put some early-season strain on the bullpen.

“We played pretty well,” Baker said. “They threatened all game today, just like they did in the first game. They had a lot of runners on base and we got out of trouble quite a few times. I don’t know, just an ugly game.”

So let’s dig a little bit deeper. Here are some takeaways -- and hopefully not overreactions -- about the defending World Series champions after four games in which they outscored the White Sox, 17-16, but were outhit, 45-29:

The offense is …

The best word to describe it is incomplete. Until they get Brantley back from his shoulder surgery recovery (perhaps later this month) and Altuve back from his fractured thumb (he’ll miss the first two months of the season), the Astros will need others to step up.

Houston reached double-digit hits just once in four games -- coming on Saturday, when the team had 11 hits. The Astros had seven hits Sunday, all of which were singles. Houston didn’t manage an RBI until back-to-back singles by (2-for-4) and  in the ninth inning, finishing 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

“The White Sox are a good team,” center fielder said. “They have some good pitching and I thought their pitchers threw well today. As a group, we hit OK. Earlier in the series, we had a couple of big two-out hits and we needed a couple more of them today. We didn’t come through at the time, but I thought we played all right. It’s early in the season. We’ll be all right.”

In addition to Altuve and Brantley, the Astros also played Sunday without slugger , who’s off to a torrid start with an RBI in all three games he’s played. Because he had only seven at-bats in the spring, Alvarez won’t play every day for the first few weeks of the season. His bat is missed, but this is about having the slugger healthy late in the season.

“It’s challenging,” Baker said. “How often do you go four games without Alex getting a hit? He’s due to get hot here. We’ve got some guys swinging the bats pretty good. Things didn’t go our way too much today. I’m sure they’re satisfied to get out of here with a split. We wanted three out of four, because they were in a position to get that today.”

The pitching is …

Settling into the season. None of Houston’s four starters completed five innings against the White Sox, with Luis Garcia giving up three runs and seven hits in five-plus innings of work Sunday. Astros starters have thrown 19 innings in four games, with the bullpen picking up 17 innings.

Last year, the club led the Major Leagues with 950 innings thrown by its starters, which was 43 innings more than any other team. The Astros relied on starters doing deep into games and had the fewest innings from their relievers. Garcia’s 91 pitches on Sunday were the most by any hurler in the rotation to start the year. Three of those four guys had irregular springs after pitching in the World Baseball Classic.

“Usually, you kind of run into the wall at 80-85 pitches, but we were hoping to get part of an inning [or through the sixth] because our bullpen is taxed,” Baker said. “We were just kind of trying to piecemeal things together at the end.” 

With on the injured list to start the season, Houston’s starting pitching depth could be tested, so it’s up to top prospect to try to work deeper into the game when he starts Monday against the Tigers at Minute Maid Park. Extended second outings by on Tuesday and on Wednesday should allow the relievers to catch their breath ahead of the season’s first off-day.