Even when Dallas Keuchel is the losing pitcher in a game, he does it in best-pitcher-in-the-league form. It’s just part of the enigma of an unusual season, not quite Steve Carlton‘s 1972, but another reminder nonetheless that Keuchel has established himself as one of the premier pitchers in the majors.
Unfortunately, the Astros feel like a team struggling to hang onto the end of rope of a tug-of-war contest than a team that is prepared to take the bull by the horns and run away and hide from the rest of the division. Here are some concerns.
Now, onto the stretch run.
With 20 games to go, the biggest threat to the Astros is not the Rangers, who are now only a game and a half back. Here’s the way I look at it. The Astros could falter over the next few weeks and fall out of first place. But the bigger concern is the Twins and Angels, who are next in line for the Wild Card. If Houston does suffer a set back and plays just .500 (or less) between now and the end of the season, this playoff drive could develop into an all-or-nothing proposition.
Either win the division or stay home. Yes, of course, the Astros could just as easily sneak in the back door with the Wild Card, but a slide could also mean a final record with only 85 (or less) wins, which just might not be good enough.
How far can the Astros push McCullers.
Lance McCullers Jr. has now pitched 131 innings in 2015 (between Corpus Christi and Houston), far exceeding his previous high. With Scott Feldman now out for the year — and even the playoffs — Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch face a daunting decision: Push the envelope or slow down his IP and perhaps shut him down as the playoffs near.
Of course, playoffs may not matter if Houston doesn’t push the envelope in the regular season. With 3-4 starts remaining, McCullers will likely end up near the 150 IP mark, not a ton of innings, but 150% more than his highest previous pro numbers. Would he then be moved to the bullpen in the playoffs? Could the Astros seriously afford to leave him out of the rotation in a seven game series?
Will the offense be good or just offensive?
There’s no doubt the Astros’ offense can be flat-out dominating. There’s also no doubt it can score two runs and finish on the short end of a 3-2 game. Which offense shows up down the stretch — more importantly, which players show up — may be the most important factor to the playoff run. Pitching aside.
The Astros have scored three or fewer runs five times in the last 10 games. Five times. Yes, the team is still averaging among the top five in the league over that stretch thanks to an 11-5 win and three games in which it scored eight runs each. But it’s those 3-2 losses that could be the most devastating.
Who will “show up” down the stretch. Marwin Gonzalez leads all regulars with a .321 average while Carlos Correa (.231), Jose Altuve (.256) and George Springer (.179) haven’t gotten hot yet. Carlos Gomez (.306/.381/.611), meanwhile, has heated up.
Which hitters will show up?
Sunday afternoon driver questions.
- Straight up: Do the Astros win the division? Make the playoffs?
- Should/will McCullers continue to start and throw 100+ pitches every outing?
- Your biggest concern for the last 20 games?
- Who is more important to the stretch run: Correa, Altuve, Keuchel or someone else?