The Astros are in the home stretch of the 2017 season and with 6 weeks to go the path forward may be murkier rather than clearer. They hold a 12 game lead in the division with 41 games to go, which while it is not mathematically certain is mathematically likely to hold.
So, coming around the turn for the stretch run – here are five critical questions for the Astros to answer between now and the end of the season.
1. Will there be any more trades before the September 1 deadline?
And let’s face it. By any more trades, the real question is whether the Astros will make a big move for another starter. Jeff Luhnow called it highly unlikely at this point. Mr. Luhnow has rarely showed what he was really thinking when it has come to trades. If Lance McCullers Jr. looks like he won’t be coming back, does that change that answer?
2. Who will be playoff eligible?
Playoff eligibility is not as complex as it used to be. Instead of being on the 25 man roster on September 1, a player needs only to be on the 40-man roster on that date and then is declared for the 25-man on a playoff series by playoff series basis. At this point, the biggest reason for a 40 man shift would be either a trade or if someone on the DL is just not going to make it back and is shifted to the 60 day DL and replaced by someone they might consider along the way.
Before injuries, all three of these players were performing at a high level (and yes the assumption is that LMJ was pitching hurt when he stumbled along before being put back on the DL). The Astros really need each of these players to boost the offense, bullpen and starting rotation respectively to challenge for the World Series title.
4. What will that playoff rotation look like?
Whether they bring in additional help or not, the most critical question facing the front office and A.J. Hinch is who will be the three or four men in the playoff rotation. Dallas Keuchel will be in it, if standing, but will LMJ return? Are Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton locks? If LMJ does not return is it Brad Peacock or Mike Fiers in the fourth spot?
5. What will the late-inning bullpen look like?
Ken Giles closes and Will Harris if healthy should be the eighth inning guy, but where does a faltering (at home) Luke Gregerson fit in? Has Francis Martes earned himself a spot late? What about Chris Devenski, who looks a lot more hittable since the All Star Game? Is Tyler Clippard possibly the answer in the seventh inning? Does Brad Peacock only work multiple inning situations or high leverage situations if he is not in the rotation? Is there a place for the “injured” Tony Sipp, Michael Feliz or the newly acquired Francisco Liriano?
Here’s your chance for answering essay questions:
- Are these the 5 most critical questions down the stretch?
- If not, what are the most critical questions in your opinion and why?
- What is your deepest fear? Biggest regret?