At 21-13 after an unexpected dash out of the gate, the Astros are 6-6 in May. On pace for 100 wins — you’re kidding, right? — the team would win 85 by playing only .500 ball the rest of the way. If this is July, Houston is in buying mode.
But it’s mid-May. And Houston is probably in early buying mode, perhaps not ready to auction the farm just yet, but searching just the same. But that’s just it. It’s May, and, so don’t sweat the small stuff (DSTSS) and remember, it’s all small stuff (IASS).
Perhaps no one but Jeff Luhnow in his wildest dreams thought the Astros would be where they are atop the AL West with still the best record in the league. Can they stay there? Can they fend off the perennial powerhouses in the division? Good question, but the hot start has propelled the organization into the spotlight and may force Luhnow’s hand soon. Here are five questions while we consider if a team that has recently suffered three consecutive 100-loss seasons should dare think they can win 100 this year.
Yes, barring injuries, the hitters will be okay, but asking the question “will the hitters be okay” is reasonable. Houston has the goods. The question is, will they hit? The Astros still have the worst batting average in the league (.225) while leading the 15-team conference in home runs (49) and stolen bases (36). Jose Altuve is, well, Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick has surprised early on. Still, George Springer, Luis Valbuena and Evan Gattis have under performed at the plate and are capable of breaking out. Add in Jed Lowrie after the break and a possible full season from Preston Tucker and Houston may be in good shape eventually.
Addition: If, as now anticipated, the Astros add Carlos Correa within the next month, it will be a huge shakeup for the roster and lineup.
Yes, everyone wants to know: What in the heck is up with that pitching? This may be the determining factor. It is not secret or shouldn’t be. The Astros are now looking for pitching outside the organization. With recurring injuries to Brad Peacock and now Brett Oberholtzer, the back-end of the rotation is close to disaster. Thank goodness for Roberto Hernandez!
Addition: Unlike the hitting side of the equation, there is no immediate solution within the organization. Any help will come from outside, unless Sam Deduno, Asher Wojciechowski or now Jake Buchanan can stop the bleeding.
What are the key pieces to the puzzle, you ask? Perhaps the biggest keys are Springer, Tucker, Valbuena. And, Luhnow. The Houston GM has perhaps his biggest task-to-date in front of him, a task that, until now, he has not faced: Add to a roster so the team can remain in contention in the present. Improvements from Springer and Valbuena will be game-changing for the offense. Tucker would be a bonus.
Addition: Correa, obviously. But the key may be addition by subtraction. While he will put this off as long as possible, moving, releasing or trading Chris Carter opens a lineup spot up if the key guys get hot.
The Astros are in first place. What is pressing today? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Hear me out. Change can and should come incrementally. Springer and Luke Gregerson are back. Tucker is in the fold. Making improvements — which include someone getting back to their norms — once a week or 10 days will be enough. For example, Springer starts hitting this week, Buchanan covers well in 2-3 starts, Valbuena picks it up a notch later this month and Tucker settles in by mid-June. Suddenly, it’s Correa time and the Astros are within weeks of Lowrie’s return. In other words, no time to panic.
Addition: May sound odd, but the additions the Astros most need right are named Springer, Tucker, Valbuena and Gattis. Yes, Carter is Carter. No expectations, so anything is a bonus. Correa in June.
Good question: Can this team possibly win the division? Many teams don’t play in April-May the way they will play when summer arrives. The Angels and Seattle aren’t .500 teams and they’ll play better, we know that. Other teams will settle in as well, so the task at hand of staying in first place and in contention will grow tougher.
The basic answer is yes, but it will not be easy at all. More than likely the team best case scenario is to back into the playoffs with a wild card. Now, that doesn’t minimize the team’s chances, just puts it in realistic perspective. It will take some additions and the ability to manage the injuries. On that score, the Astros haven’t done well. Tough to replace Lowrie with Marwin Gonzalez and Springer with Robbie Grossman while the rotating doors roll in the rotation.
Addition: Basically covered above, but the Astros can contend by adding Correa, at least one starter and the key players coming to life. Tall order and little margin for error, but 85-90 wins is not out of the question and should not be discounted.