There are certainly major reasons to not worry about the 2019 Astros.
- They are the 2017 World Champs and came within a play here or there of going to the 2018 World Series despite having Jose Altuve (knee), Carlos Correa (back) and George Springer (thumb) playing through debilitating injuries.
- Six weeks into the 2019 season, the Astros are tied with the Minnesota Twins for the best record in baseball and are on a pace for 108 wins.
- They are playing this well despite having three of their best hitters (Altuve, Correa and Springer), their top super-sub (Aledmys Diaz) and their top swingman (Collin McHugh) all on the IL for extended periods.
- They have arguably 9 of the top 25 players in the AL in Springer, Correa, Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly when they are all back and well.
- They play in a fairly weak division that cannot challenge them even with all their early season injury problems.
So, as the hero of the irreverent, Alfred E. Neuman would say, “What, me worry?”
Well, we at Chipalatta and all our Nervous Nelly commenters do worry. It is in our nature. We may worry less than we did prior to the team winning their first title, but we nevertheless have that concern that this too will pass – and not in a good way. So, what are the top 5 concerns for the 2019 Astros?
1) Starting pitching – Let’s see….
Justin Verlander? No worries unless his home planet comes looking for him.
Gerrit Cole? In 2018, he was 15-5 with a 2.82 ERA and gave the Astros the most lethal 1-2 punch in baseball with JV. In 2019…..not so much. His 5-5 3.72 ERA is good, but not transcendent. He has upped his K rate and lowered his walk rate. Good, you would think. He has almost doubled his HR rate. Not so good. He is pitching more like Pirate Cole before his trade and that just does not match his talent.
Wade Miley? Well he’s been great – 6-3, 3.14 ERA are far beyond expectations. But… he’s pitched as many innings (80) as he did all last season. Now, he pitched great last season and the beginning of this season in relatively small samples, but in the four seasons previous to that he had a 4.88 ERA over 718 innings. Is Wade Miley another late bloomer like Charlie Morton? We hope so, but we are worried.
Brad Peacock? He also has been very good 6-3, 3.42 ERA, which is in alignment with his performances since 2016. The concern may be on quantity here. His 71 innings are 6 more than all of last year when he was in the bullpen. His career high was 132 innings in 2017, when he spent time in both the rotation and the bullpen. More than that will be needed from Brad.
#5? Collin McHugh looked like the answer here with a 3-1, 1.96 start. But then he stumbled badly, losing his spot in the rotation and then headed to the IL. Corbin Martin looked like the answer here – through one good start before he stumbled badly and headed back to the minors. Framber Valdez looks like the answer here after one great start – well you get the idea.
The true answer may reside on someone else’s roster right now.
The plus side may be if the Astros are getting these pesky injuries out of their systems prior to the playoff push and the playoffs, like they did in 2017. The minus side is that the same guys are getting injured and some of the injuries are the kind that are worrisome as far as relapse. Hamstrings for instance. And let’s face it, Correa and Springer have spent quite a bit of time injured most seasons since their call-up and Altuve is in the middle of his second consecutive worrisome season relative to injuries.
3) Bullpen depth and stamina
Bullpens are worrisome by their nature. It seems like blowing leads or being shutdown relievers are both contagious. Lately, even the tough as nails back end of the bullpen of Pressly and Osuna has been a little more hittable. Will Harris and Hector Rondon roll from being good to being suspect. Chris Devenski is a question mark as he searches for the magic he’s had in previous years. Josh James had finally settled in after a bad start to the season and then came out of Wednesday night’s game with lat tightness. Framber Valdez has been at least temporarily moved from the bullpen to the rotation. His lefty replacement Reymin Guduan came up from the minors, failed and headed back down. Guduan’s replacement, Cionel Perez had one excellent outing followed by one where he failed in his second inning. There is concern that Osuna and Pressly will be over-used due to their excellent performances to date. If McHugh comes back healthy and if the ball club picks up a starter for the stretch run, the bullpen might get some reinforcements. But until we see these guys perform well in the playoffs as well as the regular season, we will worry.
4) Run scoring
Sure, they are without Correa, Altuve, Springer and Diaz. But the offense was not a well oiled run scoring machine before their injuries. The team was hitting well, but it was not scoring commensurate with their other base stats. Even now with the team in the top two in the AL in BA / OBP / OPS they are 5th in runs scored.
That may not seem like a big thing, but the Twins with similar hitting numbers are scoring 0.8 runs more per game than the Astros. Looking closer, the Twins in 3 less games have 39 more extra base hits than the Astros. Also, they have only hit into 38 double plays while the Astros have hit into a whopping 67 DPs, almost one per game (it feels like one per rally).
Will they improve on these numbers? Their eventual success may rely on just that and we will worry until it does reverse trend.
5) Returning hangover
We’ve seen it over and over. Guys get hurt. Guys come back. Guys struggle mightily. Sometimes that is rust and sometimes that is guys trying to play through something that will not totally heal until surgery or an off-season of rest. Last season, Altuve and Correa both never really healed and never really played like themselves after their mid-season injuries. We know they should have plenty of time to straighten themselves out after their returns, but we are like Mom. We worry.
So, are you worried about any of these five things above and how much? Are there other things that worry you more?