Culture / Sporting Life

Aledmys Diaz Gives the Yankees (and Rangers) Reason to Freak Out — The Astros Grabbing the AL’s Best Record is No Small Statement

The Utility Man Swinging Like a Star Shows Why Depth May Win Out

BY // 08.10.22

Aledmys Diaz’s superpower is slipping into whatever role the Astros need him to play. He always brings a high level of professionalism to whatever that task is. But the problem with being the ever available fill-in is that sometimes you’re as taken for granted as a shadow. You’re always there, but rarely really seen.

Well, there is no missing Diaz now.

The 32-year-old from Cuba is playing the best baseball of his life, helping the Astros continue to roll along even if the everyday lineup lacks the embarrassment of star power those 2017 and 2019 World Series teams possessed. On this Tuesday night at Minute Maid, Aledmys Diaz also reminds the Texas Rangers and their $500 million middle infield (and maybe the New York Yankees too) just what they’re missing.

That’s non stars with the ability to be difference makers who fill out a lineup and make it complete. Guys like Diaz.

Diaz makes the impact of a star in the opener of another mismatch of a Lone Star series, hitting a grand slam off the Rangers best pitcher to turn a 4-0 game completely around. The Astros go on to win 7-5 and move into a tie with the Yankees in the race for the No. 1 seed in the American League playoffs, the only regular season race that’s left for this 71-40 team.

Yes, after trailing the Yankees by more than 10 games in June for the AL’s best record, the Astros have completely caught the sputtering Bronx Bombers. And Houston actually holds the tiebreaker advantage thanks to their 5-2 record against Aaron Judge and Friends this season.

The Rangers aren’t the only ones who should be jealous of the deepness of this Astros roster, which is personified in the hot bat of Diaz. You don’t think the Yankees would have rather had Aledmys Diaz hitting with the bases loaded in the top of the 13th inning than Miguel Andujar in that 1-0 loss in Seattle?

Diaz, who is playing on a one-year $4.45 million contract, now has seven home runs since July 5th. Astros superstar Yordan Alvarez, one of the most fearsome home run hitters on the planet, has six home runs over that same time period. Kyle Tucker, one of the game’s brightest young stars, has three home runs in that stretch. Jose Altuve, who remains the heart and soul leader of the Astros, also has hit three home runs since July 5th.

Aledmys Diaz is not a star, future or past. But he’s hitting like one in this moment.

“I think when Diaz is in there often, he just gets comfortable,” Astros bench coach Joe Espada says when I ask if Diaz has made any adjustments at the plate to trigger this groove. “He’s got a very simple swing. And once he gets his legs and he starts recognizing the pitches that he can handle, he’s a really good hitter.

“Once he gets going, once he gets comfortable, once he feels like he’s part of the everyday offense, you start seeing some really good results.”

Diaz is swinging well enough that he probably almost deserves to be playing over rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, who’s no longer making anyone forget Carlos Correa. Just like Trey Mancini should be more of the regular first base starter than the incumbent champ Yuli Gurriel.

Don’t expect this longtime utility player to campaign for that, though. That’s not how Aledmys Diaz operates. He’s learned to treasure every change he gets without openly pushing for more. That’s the Major League life Diaz has signed up for — and he’ll respect the lineup decisions and his role with an Astros franchise that is one more World Series title from modern dynasty status.

Aledmys Diaz is swinging like a star. What happens when the guys who actually are stars start catching up?

Even in a stretch when he’s swinging like a star. Diaz has now reached double digit home runs for the first time since the 2018 season when he played 130 games as a Toronto Blue Jays regular. And he still has two months of baseball to go this season.

“I don’t think about that,” Diaz says when I ask him about the significance of reaching 10 home runs after a run of seasons that always seem to be injury interrupted. “I just think to like stay healthy. That’s a big part of this season. To be able to be on the field and contribute to the team.

“So hopefully I can do the same for the rest of the season.”

Rangers Dilemmas, Astros Answers

The Rangers can only wish they had a guy like Aledmys Diaz, the type of professional hitter who can fill in the gaps around the stars. For even on a night when this Texas team’s legit stars — that $500 million middle infield of shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Marcus Semien — play well, it’s not enough to topple their Houston tormenters.

Seager and Semien both homer. And the Rangers still lose. For the 26 time in their last 29 games at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros spot the Rangers a 4-0 lead with Martin Perez on the mound, don’t get their first hit until the fourth inning, fall down again after tying it — and still roll to victory. Altuve, Alvarez and Co. are simply operating at a level several planes higher than Chris Woodward’s Rangers team. As usual.

There were several early Mike Tyson fights that were still more well balanced than this matchup. The gulf between Texas’ two Major League Baseball teams somehow seems to remain as vast as ever. Despite the Rangers making all those big free agent buys in the offseason.

Aledmys Diaz Astros
Aledmys Diaz has delivered some big hits for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Of course, the Yankees are probably the ones who really should be stressing about these revitalized Astros. The Rangers’ season is already done except for the formalities. The championship thinking Yankees are the ones who cannot help but notice the footsteps pulling up right next to them. Houston’s scored six runs or more in four of its last six games, seemingly getting better.

Diaz is swinging like a star. What happens when the guys who actually are stars start catching up?

“When our team starts shrinking the zone, when we start swinging at strikes and there’s that passing the baton mentality, our offense is a pretty special one,” says Espada, who is filling in for the COVID-sidelined Dusty Baker.

On this night, even the struggling Tucker sends a ball slamming off the left field scoreboard, signaling he may be on his way back. Just another loud Astros hit to rattle around in a stressed out New York team’s collective heads.

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