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Apollo Roundtable: Halfway Point

We got some of the gang together to give y’all their thoughts on where the Stros sit at the halfway point. Let’s dive in.

We have hit the halfway point of the season and your Astros are sitting at a 53-28 record. Let’s leadoff with what has surprised you up to this point, who is your first half MVP, and who is someone that has surprised you up to this point? 

@ApolloDez1: The starting staff has surprised me with the young guys making a jump, JV returning as superman, the workhorse mentality from 1-5. Brent Strom, the man behind the curtain of Oz, moved on from the organization and there were a lot of questions surrounding the future of this staff. Fast forward to July 7th and it is the best staff in baseball. First half MVP is easily my son Yordan and the one who has surprised me the most is Jeremy Pena. I knew he was going to be a dude and all the people I talked to loved him but to play against the ghost of Carlos Correa and thrive, well that is special.

@copiercollin: Honestly, I thought we were going to have more competition from the rest of the AL West. The Mariners seemed to be building to something but are either underperforming or overrated, and the Angels continue to waste Trout and Ohtani. This one is too easy for First Half MVP – so I’ll give one answer for both sides of the ball. Yordan Alvarez is clearly the most valuable offensive producer. Justin Verlander gets my vote for the pitching staff. For someone who has surprised me the most, that would be Mauricio Dubon’s ability to work long at bats and rarely strikeout – instead putting the ball in play or getting on base – has been impressive to me. He’s a tough out. I didn’t know a lot about him before he came here.

@AstrosFansUK : 1st half MVP? I mean, it has to be Yordan Alvarez, right? What he’s doing for us this year is outrageous. He’s gone from being a fearsome bomber to this completely well-rounded and intelligent hitter who you can visibly see terrifies other teams. The scary part for them? He’s actually improving and getting better. We really could be looking at a generational talent here if he continues on this trajectory. I have to put a 1st half MVP runner-up as well as it would be scandalous not to include Justin Verlander – for him to be so dominant at age 39 coming off TJ surgery is remarkable and flat-out ridiculous. We have to be very savvy in terms of his innings management as we all remember how badly he faded in October 2019 after an incredible Cy Young award-winning regular season.

@LilBroTaylor: We all knew Houston had a pretty damn good ballclub heading into the season, but I’ve been shocked by the sheer number of outstanding performances we’ve gotten out of our pitching staff. We might as well just call our bullpen the ‘Tool Box’ because every dude in there has been NAILS. Pair that with a cavalry of 6 bonified starters (+ a 7th on the way), and it’s not hard to see why this squad is so hard to beat. I could pretty much toss a coin up to decide between Yordan & JV for first-half MVP, but I’m going to go with the old horse who’s trotting his way to a 3rd Cy Young. Someone who’s jumped off the page to me however is Seth Martinez; guy has posted a 0.83ERA over 21.2IP & has posed as an absolute anchor for the front of that pen when we’ve really needed some innings.

@Midzee4 : Yordan’s the first half MVP. The Cuban gazelle has blossomed into a legit MVP caliber LF and it’s just so beautiful. He’s the heart and soul of the league’s best offense once again, and must-watch television. Most surprised by the bullpen. Stanek, Montero, and Martinez were all incredible finds off various scrap heaps (Stanek’s nothing deal in free agency, Montero as a throw-in, Martinez as a minor league rule 5 pick from OAKLAND. You’d think they could have used him. Leaving Abreu off, who’s quietly also been incredible, because I always believed.


@cat_falgout: The pitching has really surprised me in the first half. It’s actually insane what Javier has been able to do (aside from the last outing). I feel like in the past we’ve been very accustomed to the bullpen imploding and so far that hasn’t really been the case. They’ve been absolute nails and the bad outings are few and far between. First half MVP has to be Yordan. The man is a monster. Mauricio Dubon has been the biggest individual player that’s surprised me. He got traded over and I felt like immediately started to impact the team. I’ve really enjoyed watching him play.


@AndrewGleinser: I’m surprised at how effective the bullpen has been, especially with Ryan Pressly being more good than great. Ryne Stanek and Rafael Montero have been lights out, as has Bryan Abreu and newcomer Seth Martinez. Hector Neris and Phil Maton have been solid as well. This looks like one of the deeper units in the league. First half MVP is undoubtedly Yordan Alvarez. The man is absolutely destroying opposing pitchers to the tune of a 1.071 OPS, which would be the second-best single season mark in club history, trailing only Jeff Bagwell’s MVP season in 1994. If he continues this production over the course of the season, he’ll definitely be in the MVP conversation.Someone who’s surprised me is Jeremy Pena. We knew the kid would have a strong glove, and he has indeed been a plus defender. But he’s also been impactful at the plate, posting a 123 adjusted OPS and hitting a pair of walk-off homers so far this season. He looks the part of the franchise’s star shortstop for the next several seasons.

With the AL West being a one horse race before the ASB, how do you stack this team vs. the other perceived AL best?

Dez: All roads lead to the ALCS matchup vs. The Yankees but the Rays getting hot and healthy well that scares me.

Collin: We all know it’s going to come down to the Astros and Yankees. The Twins look good but the Central is mostly a joke like the bottom of the AL West. It’s going to come down to who gets hot in October.

UK: I had concerns early on in the season as we looked distinctly second-best vs teams like the Blue Jays, but in recent weeks I feel like this 2022 Astros team has really found their identity, culminating in that memorable and hugely impressive 7-2 run vs the Yankees and Mets both at home and in New York. I have immense faith now that our team is one or two achievable pieces (a lefty reliever and maybe another bat <BENINTENDI, cough cough>) away from being a nightmarish proposition to face in October. The Yankees are unquestionably our main AL rivals and if we do face them in another ALCS it should be one hell of a series based on the recent evidence. At our best, it’s one we can definitely win.

Taylor: There are only 2 teams that legitimately matter in the American League this szn & everyone else is just killing time. The Astros & the Yankees will undoubtably face off in the ALCS & it’s going to be so much fucking fun. Both teams are stacked to high hell with premier talent, and if the 5 games they’ve already squared up in have proven anything, it’s that these two are 1A & 1B for best in baseball. It’s going to go 7…

Ben: The Astros and Yankees are clearly on their own island up there. Postseason is a crapshoot but those are the most complete teams in the AL, and someone like Minnesota would have to make a flurry of moves at the deadline to match on paper. Toronto is probably a couple of acquirable arms away from being in the conversation for the second half.

Cat: Obviously everyone is talking about the Yankees being the best team in baseball and the best team in the American League, blah blah blah. They’re good, but this Astros team has what it takes to outlast them. I haven’t paid too much attention to the Twins this year so I’m not really concerned about them, but will eat my words if I’m wrong (I don’t think I will be).

Andrew: The other perceived AL best is clearly the Yankees, and the Astros came very close to sweeping them in the Bronx recently. The Astros lineup actually looks deeper, as the Yankees are getting poor production from Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson, and Aaron Hicks, not to mention having a starting shortstop with absolutely zero power. Both teams are deep in pitching, so it’s really going to come down to which team is healthier when they presumably meet in October. Beyond that, the Astros have also repeatedly had the Yankees’ number, and Jose Altuve continues to terrorize their hearts and minds. The Yankees may have the better record, but the Astros have to be the favorite until proven otherwise.

The ASB is quickly approaching and this fanbase has been accustomed to big splashes at the deadline but that was the previous regime. James Click last year shored up the pen by grabbing up relievers, what are some names you would like to see the FO target? 

@1800Callabro aka Courtney: Trade for Brad Keller. That’s it. That’s the answer.

Dez: I would like to see arms on the back end and I trust this Front Office on that front, I think getting another bat that can spell the guys and shore up the bench. Walker out in Arizona or Mancini.

Collin: I don’t have a good answer for this. I think a lot of people are clamoring for a lefty reliever but we have one in Sugarland that may fit that bill – Parker Mushinski. I wont pretend to be an armchair GM, and since it’s hard to know what gaps you’re going to need to fill for the post season by the trade deadline on August 2nd I’ll say the Astros need to ensure Lance McCullers will be ready to go otherwise they may need to find a starter.

UK: Relievers? Honestly I’m not sure but I trust the front office when it comes to pitching acquisitions as 90% of what they pick up seems to turn into gold, with or without Brent Strom. Otherwise Benintendi as mentioned before, would be a great bat to add on the evidence of this Royals series and a good defender as well.

Taylor: Andrew Chafin’s handlebar ‘stache would look downright ethereal in a ‘Stros uni. You make trades for the postseason – with how important specific matchups become during October, we really should go out and grab a solid southpaw for the pen. Chafin’s dished out a 2.55ERA with 30Ks this year & he hardly ever gives up free bases. If you’re not on board yet just google a picture of what this dude looks like & I bet you’ll come around.

Ben: Trey Mancini, Christian Walker, Joe Jimenez, Gregory Soto, Tanner Scott, Willson Contreras (unlikely, I know), David Robertson, Josh Bell, pretty much in that order. Got an article going out soon on my deadline preview!

Cat: There was talk about the Astros going after Willson Contreras to replace Maldonado’s bat, but with how valuable Maldonado’s defense is to the team and the potential for Korey Lee to be great, I don’t see that happening. It would be a welcome surprise though because the Castro experiment has run its course. I’ve also seen talk about Josh Bell or Trey Mancini to help out at 1B. I’ve been on the #JoshBellToHouston train for a while and ADORE Mancini, so I would welcome either of those additions with open arms. The Astros already have the best bullpen in the league, but I’d like to see them go after someone like Andrew Chafin to really shore things up and get ready for October.

Andrew: At this point, the only move I think Click really ought to make is finding an impact lefthanded reliever. Perhaps the Tigers make Andrew Chafin or Gregory Soto available. It’s the one thing the bullpen lacks, and we know how much Dusty Baker likes his lefties. You can’t have too much pitching. On the position player side, if Jake Meyers continues to play well, center field isn’t a need. The Astros aren’t likely to replace Yuli Gurriel, and any trade target would likely be a downgrade on defense at first base. Martin Maldonado isn’t going anywhere either, but perhaps Click trades for a backup to replace Jason Castro if he doesn’t want Korey Lee spending most of his time on the bench. Aside from that, there don’t seem to be any big moves that need to be made. Let’s not forget that Jeff Luhnow’s biggest deadline deal was the Carlos Gomez trade, which is quite possibly the worst trade in franchise history. There’s no need to make a big splash for the sake of making one, and sometimes it’s better to stand pat.

It is hard as a content creator and a fan to not look forward to October but is there something you’re appreciating more this season – a certain player, moment or game? 

Dez: I am appreciating this Golden Era more and more and that just means the micro of the games doesn’t fluster me because the goal is about the macro. Also, I literally love Justin Verlander.

Collin: I’ll say Pena’s calm approach in the box during high-pressure situations has been exciting. Already with a couple of walkoff homers under his belt, I think he can rise to the challenge and bring an extra clutch gene to the roster in the post-season. 

UK: I love great starting pitching and that recent run through the games vs the NY teams was sensational, so maybe just that chemistry that’s there this year? I know that’s kind of an intangible for content creation but the whole roster seems very united and I love to see that.

Taylor: This year’s squad has already produced a plethora of crazy & exciting moments, but what’s made 2022 special to me is how well-rounded this team has proven to be. The lineup & staff have both been stellar, picking each other up when needed. Dusty & his crew deserve a lot of credit too as they’ve really been able to maximize the club’s versatility. It’s just so nice to watch some well-coached, high-power, all-around solid baseball. Feels like 17’ again!

Ben: The pitching staff is just disgusting, and it’s all so unique. They have so many different guys who do different things. Urquidy changed his pitch mix a third of the way through and found the Ks again with his Sweeper. Martinez uses three fastball variants and 7 feet of extension from a low arm slot to just be a crafty master. Dudes can’t lay off Garcia’s cutter. Stanek and Abreu come at you with wizardry and gas. Verlander’s been putting his slider in the same unhittable spot for 900 years. You know Javier’s fastball is coming in the upper third, but you can’t hit it, silly. Framber found a cutter that he doesn’t even need because they’ll just beat the sinker into the ground. So fun to watch.

Cat: This year has felt very sentimental so far. The more the Astros win, the more I take a step back and am grateful that we get to watch this team play every day. We’ve seen some truly bad baseball in the past, but we’re smack dab in the middle of the golden age at the moment and I’ve never been happier. I definitely appreciate all the shit this team had to go through to get to where they are now.

Andrew: I’m appreciating seeing the next wave of franchise cornerstones continue to improve. That starts with Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, both of whom should make the All-Star team. Then there’s Pena and possibly Meyers who are coming into their own. Framber Valdez continues to get better, and guys like Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier are showing flashes of brilliance. This all shows the Astros’ window of contention isn’t closing anytime soon.

Can this team break the franchise record for wins? 

Dez: 110 wins book it.

Collin: I think it’s highly likely they make a good push for it. The Astros remaining schedule is 2nd easiest in all of MLB. If they play how they should against them – not like like season where they had trouble beating bad teams – they have a good shot to break that record.

UK: They can, but they won’t. That’s the reality of it. They getting better and better all the time but I think it’s inevitable we’ll try to conserve energy as much as we can ahead of October down the stretch and probably lose a few ballgames we could win it we were going full-pelt. If it means we go all the way in October then sign me up for that exchange all day long.

Taylor: Can this team beat the club’s all-time win record? Of course, I think it’s up to how much the rest of the league lets us take our foot off the gas come September. If I were a gambling man (which I am) I’d bet that 100+ wins is in the bag at this point.

Ben: Probably not. Guys will get their innings managed (Hunter Brown spot start time is coming up soon). The dog days of August usually get to Houston. But that’s alright, they don’t need to be a 104 win team. Get to the postseason with Lance healthy and stretched out and ride the hot hands into the sunset.

Cat: Seeing as their remaining schedule is essentially a cake walk, I can absolutely see the Astros breaking the franchise win record.

Andrew: The franchise record for wins is 107. The 2022 team is currently on pace for 106. The remaining schedule is pretty light, so if the team remains in relatively good health, reaching 108 wins is certainly doable.

Would you like to see Yordan do the home run derby? 

Dez: The old wives tale of players slumping after the Homerun Derby looms but with Yordan’s easy swing and power I am not worried.

Collin: Hell yeah! I’d love to see that. Do I want him to participate? Hell no, save that swing for the games that matter. We cant have our most productive hitter go into a post-HR derby slump like we’ve seen time and time again from participants. Head down, focus on the 2nd half. 

UK: Yes. I know people talk about messing up his swing but is that likely? He’s such a professional that I know he would prepare properly. It would be an awesome spectacle to see Yordan crushing bomb after bomb after bomb into the Kingdom (anyone who knows how I live-tweet Yordan’s homers will understand that!). So yeah, let’s see it!

Taylor: HYFR I DO! Yordon in the Derby would be pure electricity & I bet he’d win the damn thing too. I have such fond memories as a kid watching guys like Frank Thomas send baseballs into orbit at that event. I NEED IT!!! #BringSluggersBack2TheDerby

Ben: Yeah, I’m so sad we didn’t get to see him do it in Coors last year. Would have been maybe my favorite baseball moment ever. Regardless, I’d like for everyone to see what we’ve been talking about on the third coast.

Cat: In a perfect world, Yordan in the Home Run Derby would be incredible, but I don’t think I’ll be too pressed if he decides not to participate.

Andrew: I would love to see Alvarez participate in the Home Run Derby. I have fond memories of Lance Berkman hitting a bunch of dingers at Minute Maid Park in the 2004 derby, and Alvarez is one of the greatest power hitters in the game today. It’s time he puts it on full display in front of the entire sport and becomes the star Astros fans know him to be.

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