The Houston Astros are alive in the American League West, trailing the first-place Oakland Athletics by just a game-and-a-half entering Friday.
Baseball Reference currently gives Houston a 58.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason, and most sportsbooks would agree.
Top to bottom, the Astros are a well-constructed team (albeit there are some bullpen woes), but there are a couple of players who haven’t performed at a high enough level thus far.
If the Astros want to make another serious playoff run, they are going to need these two players to turn it up a notch the rest of the way.
2. Zack Greinke
It feels harsh to include Zack Greinke on this list, but his inability to get over the hump this season has been frustrating.
To be clear, Greinke has been extremely serviceable this year with a 3.97 ERA, 3.77 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP.
But as the staff ace, you need more from him.
We all know what Greinke is capable of.
As recently as 2019, Greinke posted a 2.93 ERA and was named an All-Star.
He won the ERA title in 2015 with his historic 1.66 mark.
He has a Cy Young Award to his credit and has been in the mix for the award several other times.
But so far, he’s looked more like a middle-of-the-rotation arm in 2021.
Maybe we need to adjust our expectations for Greinke, because after all, he is in his age-37 season.
Zack Greinke is the 7th pitcher to debut in the Wild Card era to reach 3,000 IP. pic.twitter.com/u0yDtHuO0X
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) May 26, 2021
However, for this team to really take it to the next level, they are going to need Greinke to channel some of his better years.
Greinke’s next start will come Sunday against the San Diego Padres.
1. Martin Maldonado
Martin Maldonado is a very solid defensive catcher, and there is no taking that away from him.
He has a Gold Glove Award to his credit (it came in 2017 with the Los Angeles Angels) and he ranks fourth in all of baseball this season in Runs from Extra Strikes (a statistic measured by Baseball Savant that measures how effective a catcher is at framing pitches).
That alone makes Maldonado worth keeping around.
All of that said, he has been the closest thing to an automatic out that you’ll see at the MLB level this season.
The 11-year veteran is batting .158, getting on base at a .229 clip, and slugging .275.
He has an OPS+ of 41, which implies that he has been 59 percent worse than the average offensive player this season.
Maldonado’s offensive WAR is -0.4.
It’s hard to justify keeping his bat in the lineup when he’s scuffling like this.
The Astros have officially announced their contract extension with Martin Maldonado. Per source, he’ll earn $5 million in 2022, with a vesting option for $5 million in 2023.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) April 21, 2021
Maldonado has never been known for his offense.
In fact, he has never completed a season with an OPS higher than .671 (among years with a minimum of 100 games played).
Trading the 34-year-old isn’t exactly a viable option now that the pitching staff has spent several months working with him as the everyday catcher.
Again, Maldonado does bring a lot to the table, but only on one side of the ball.
There is no denying that Maldonado’s lack of production at the plate is holding the team back this season.