So, at 13 games over .500, these Astros are — thus far — exceeding any of our expectations. I’m pretty sure at some point, I said we’d be looking at 83-87 wins. Well, right now the Astros have 47 wins. As long as they play within a game of .500 the rest of the way, the Astros will make that.
Of course, the 81 games left won’t necessarily play out like the first 81. So, here’s what we can look forward to. Maybe …
What Can Go Right
Despite George Springer going on the disabled list for the next six weeks — and hopefully not any longer — the Astros are about to get healthier. When last we saw Jed Lowrie, he was hitting .300 with a .999 OPS, having whiffed 15 times in 60 ABs, but having walked 12 times as well. Jake Marisnick is on his way back as well. He hasn’t been gone long — and his offense has lagged since that first month — but his defense could come in handy.
The other big option the Astros get back is Scott Feldman. With a 4.80 ERA, Feldman has — and probably will again — had good outings and not-so-great ones. These additions through health should be a big boon to the Astros. Eventually, Springer will be that addition, though the Astros will certainly miss him for now.
The other improvement the Astros can see is a second-half surge by some players: Chris Carter, Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis and Jason Castro are the likely candidates. For Carter, a horrible .160 BA in April only gave way to a .215 and .209 BA in May and June. He’ll have to do better than that to be of real value to the Astros. Though his .832 OPS in June would be helpful for a second-half run. For Gattis, the .164 April BA gave way to better May and June averages. His OPS has been up and down though, but he keeps driving in runs. If Gattis can stay consistent, he can help make the second half look like the first.
Valbuena’s production did pick up some in June, but if he cannot stay productive the Astros have Lowrie to look forward to at 3B. At the very least, the pair can platoon at third. Castro is the poor producer who seems unlikely to change. A good May (.734 OPS) has been his high-water mark.
The other possible path to improvement should be the trade front. It’s no secret the Astros are looking for a top-of-the-rotation starter on a rental basis. Jeff Luhnow has said he’s not looking for the long-term solution (no Cole Hamels), and would rather a rental (Scott Kazmir or Johnny Cueto) that will cost less.
What Should Go Right
As Jose Altuve heads back toward .300, all seems right with the world. Altuve being Altuve and Dallas Keuchel being Keuchel seem like reasonable expectations. Other than a few bad starts, Collin McHugh looks like the second-half McHugh from 2014, and that can only help as well.
One thing to see with the Astros at this point is that — other than Keuchel and maybe Will Harris — no one is having a career year. No one is set up for a fall. In fact, some regression in the positive overall is the likely scenario in the second half.
And while the Astros most likely keep swinging and missing, they’ll also keep hitting it out of the park when they do connect. The power game will miss Springer while he’s gone. But Gattis, Carter, Colby Rasmus, Valbuena and Springer when he returns should keep providing the power.
And the Astros should keep benefiting from their youth movement. Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. are just part of the contribution from the farm. While we await Springer’s return, Domingo Santana and Jon Singleton will help out. Both have been better than their 2014 versions by far.
What Can Go Wrong
All that said, we can’t read the future. Injuries have hurt the Astros in the first half — Lowrie and Feldman mainly — and will continue to hurt in the second half with Springer out. If anything happened to Keuchel long-term or Altuve — or Correa — this could all go south pretty fast.
Most season, the Astros have played into a little bad luck. Not so far this season. The Astros Pythagorean record is the same as their actual record. The other unforeseen road block to the playoffs could be an error by Luhnow when or if he makes a trade. Trade Valbuena in a package for Cueto, then Lowrie goes down again, and we’re looking at Marwin Gonzalez or Jonathan Villar at 3B. Package Marisnick in a deal, then suddenly Rasmus goes back to his 2014 form, and this is not a plus outfield anymore.
What Should Go Wrong
That said, this is a team that has some flaws already without going and looking for more. The strikeouts are obvious. Houston has nearly 100 Ks than the next biggest whiffer (754 to 660, Tampa Bay). The Astros are in a 3-way tie for 11th worst batting average. One or two bad days at the plate, and Houston will hold the 14th spot in the AL on its own with ease. But the Astros are a solid 10th in the AL in OBP (.309) and is a respectable fifth in OPS (.736)
The real concern is wins and losses. A 15-7 April was followed by a 16-13 May and a 15-14 June. The margin of error on the Astros’ months has been diminishing. A losing month would give the Angels or whomever a big chance close the gap. A big losing skid to counteract that big winning streak Houston enjoyed early on would decimate the Astros’ lead.
Expect These Numbers
1. Evan Gattis has 49 RBIs thus far. Will he or anyone else top the 100 mark?
2. Right now Jose Altuve is on pace for 174 hits on the season. I’m going to call 185 his over/under. What say you?
3. Dallas Keuchel is on pace for 20 wins. Does he get there? Does Collin McHugh join him?
4. Going into the final 81 games, Valbuena has 19 homers and Carter has 15. Do either top 30?
5. Both Correa and Keuchel have one at least one monthly honor. Do either win Cy Young or Rookie of the Year this season? If so, what will that say about how the Astros’ second half has gone? Is Correa’s biggest competition for ROY McCullers?
6. Thus far, the Astros are 47-34. To just go .500, they’d have to go 34-47. Do you honestly see that happening? If the Astros play a game under .500 the rest of the way, that’s 87 wins. A game over and it’s 88 wins. Is that enough to make the playoffs? How many wins do they need to win the division? Keep in mind, the closest competitors are the Angels and Rangers at 41 wins apiece.