The Astros were the best team in the Majors for the first two months of the season before the Dodgers overtook them after the All-Star break. Houston had the AL West in the bag long ago and they still have the best record in the American League, but are they still the team to beat?
The Astros have lost nine of their last 13 games and have the 2nd worst team ERA (5.52) since the All-Star break. They may have the AL West wrapped up with a 13 game lead in the division, but they have been a sub .500 club for a few weeks.
What makes things even more concerning is that they have lost their last two games, being outscored 15-6, to the Chicago White Sox, who have the worst record in the AL. They will make the playoffs and still have a 6.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox for the best record in the AL and home field in the postseason, but the rest of the league is closing the gap.
Pitching helps to win
The Astros have a strong staff, but now only rank 13th in the Majors in team ERA. Dallas Keuchel (9-2 2.87 ERA) has not found his form in his three starts since coming off the DL and in his last one he was lit up for eight earned runs in only four innings of work in a loss to the White Sox.
Lance McCullers is still on the DL with a back issue and while Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, and Mike Fiers have been decent, they need Keuchel and McCullers to come back to their former dominant pitching.
Help is on the way
While the Astros are struggling, they recently got George Springer, who leads the club in homers back from the disabled list, and star shortstop Carlos Correa will resume swinging the bat next week having been on the DL since mid-July with a thumb injury.
Houston still ranks 1st in the Majors in runs scored and Jose Altuve leads the major leagues in batting average, but getting Springer and Correa back soon should give a lift to the slumping club. Manager A. J. Hinch was asked about his club’s recent spell and did not sound too worried. He stated, “Getting healthy and staying healthy is key, and we’ve got to get our pitching on track.”
Springer is back and Correa is coming back, but pitching wins in the playoffs and their staff that used to be in the top five in baseball in team ERA, now ranks in the middle of the pack. I don’t see their pitching turning things around and their lineup cannot carry them in the postseason. Houston added no legitimate starters before the All-Star break and that will come back to haunt them.
The Astros will make the playoffs. However, it is still far too early to pencil them in for a World Series matchup with the Dodgers, a scenario that many “experts” already expect.
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