It’s the end of May y’all! Jeff Luhnow is watching players in Fresno and the Astros are in first place. Still. Now, if Houston is still in first place over the long July 4 holiday and the Labor Day weekend, there’s a story friends.
Until those mile markers, though, many will be waiting for the Astros to fall apart and come crashing back to earth. Face it, there isn’t anyone who predicted this 30-18 start with a six game lead in the AL West. No you didn’t either!
So, as fragile as this team may appear with its winning ways, here are the three areas the Astros may be most vulnerable this summer.
There’s a reason for the rash of recent promotions that usually don’t take place until June or so. GM Jeff Luhnow realizes his roster in Houston is razor thin and he’s hurrying along the process to provide a finger in the dam in case the breach (injuries, performance, etc.) gets larger. The problem was initially exposed when Jed Lowrie went down and the Astros were forced to replace him with Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar.
Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers Jr. are already in Houston and there is no reason to suspect they are going back to Fresno. Soon, Carlos Correa and even Jon Singleton could join the big club, and that could help the major league club, but the depth problem still exists. There just isn’t enough quality, MLB-ready talent at the top of the system.
Huh, you say? Yes, the Astros are approaching the one-third season mark and manager A.J. Hinch is already needing to get creative with guys to give his bullpen rest. No doubt, it’s still the strongest part of this team, but if problems continue to plague the rotation, the bullpen will carry the brunt of the work and wear down quickly this summer. You may suggest that the real solution is to shore up the rotation and there is some truth to that, but even the current pitchers not named Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh must pick up their share of innings as the summer heats up.
Despite having four pitchers on pace to pitch 184+ innings, the bullpen is still often working overtime, especially in spurts. The pen has worked largely without any significant injuries and with several moving parts, it’s obvious that one pitcher can pick up for another in a jam.
For the rotation, the two keys heading into summer will be Scott Feldman and Roberto Hernandez. If Feldman can solidify his approach and provide 6+ IP per outing and if Hernandez stays on track with his performance, Houston could have a solid summer.
Youngsters in the stretch.
If Correa and Singleton do join the club this summer, it will mean the Astros will have as many as 5-6 young players that are key to its success. Preston Tucker and Lance McCullers Jr. recently joined George Springer on a team that is still defining its character and chemistry makeup. Take away perhaps other veterans when they arrive and Lowrie returns, and the team is decidedly younger when trying to make a stretch run and fend off potential challengers.
The key will be how well those players — making up perhaps more than one fifth of the roster — hold up in the heat of what could be a playoff run. All could not only be involved, but could be integral parts of the leadership. Springer and Tucker already hit in the top of the order. Correa and Singleton would be expected to improve the team at their positions as well.
This particular “weakness” could actually be a strength, but it will bear watching this summer.
And a few questions to start the conversation.
- Which player will be more integral to the team’s playoff run: Correa, Springer, Tucker, McCullers or someone else?
- Barring injuries, will the bullpen remain the strength of the team all season?
- What is the most suspect area of this team heading into summer? What should the Astros do about it?
- Which player acquired in the off season is most likely to be traded, released or demoted by the All Star break: Chris Carter, Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena, or Colby Rasmus?
- And…the $64,000 question: Are the Astros legitimate playoff contenders for the entire season?