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Jim Henneman: Don't Give Astros American League Pennant Just Yet

August 9, 2019
No team has ever clinched a division title, let alone a pennant, on July 31, but based on the general reaction after baseball's trading deadline had come and gone, most observers felt the Houston Astros had done just that.

But you might want to hold the phone on this one. 

For sure, the Astros drove a stake in the ground when they took on Zack Greinke and his Arizona salary dump. It gave an already formidable starting rotation a third top-of-the line performer to join Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. With the Boston Red Sox drowning in mediocrity and the New York Yankees going all in with bats rather than arms, the Astros definitely got a leg up on the quest to represent the American League in the 2019 World Series.

Some will say the Astros also got a leg up on the next two seasons with both Verlander and Greinke committed, but others will point out there's a flip side to this coin. Even with the Diamondbacks swallowing a chunk of Greinke's salary, the Astros will be committed for almost $60 million for two pitchers, ages 36 and 37 next Opening Day. And if you don't think those red flags can turn white in a hurry, you aren't paying attention to the analytics on older players, which have become as big a part of today's game as the shift.

The Astros' much publicized teardown, rebuild and World Series championship run (2017) has been well documented. So has the perception that they are set up for prolonged period of dominance. 

But, to some, the Greinke deal is proof that the Astros need to be "all in" for the immediate future -- especially this year, when they have three aces aligned at the top of the rotation.

Ex-Oriole and current Yankee bullpen ace Zack Britton was quick to note that history might serve as the best cautionary note when he reminded everyone of 2014. You will recall that was the year the Detroit Tigers, with Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price, were swept by the Orioles, who countered with Chris Tillman, Wei Yin Chen and Bud Norris. Enough said about invulnerability of a pitching staff.

***

It might have been coincidental, but the same night manager Brandon Hyde and first baseman Chris Davis had their dugout dustup was also the night the Orioles presented their worst defensive lineup of the season.

It was so bad that Trey Mancini was the most experienced outfielder in the lineup, with Stevie Wilkerson in center and Hanser Alberto in left. For a team placing emphasis on defense, that was an invitation for disaster. 

That it was the third game of a three-game blowout by the Yankees made what followed predictable. That it came after a horrendous outfield mixup involving Wilkerson and Mancini presented the Yankees with four runs made an explosion of some sort almost inevitable.

That it involved Hyde and Davis was somewhat surprising, given the public nature of their relationship, despite the first baseman's continued struggles at the plate. But with the Yankees' AAAA hitters exposing some AAA/AA pitching, something was bound to happen.

Like some of the storms that have hit Camden Yards lately, this one might blow over -- but like those that are weather-related, it will leave behind some debris.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox