It feels like a season ago, but a couple months ago at the end of May, the Astros were in a bit of a pickle. They had just placed SS Carlos Correa on the IL where he joined fellow starters and All Stars Jose Altuve and George Springer on the list. Oh, and super-sub Aledmys Diaz was on the list already as was backup catcher Max Stassi and starting pitcher Collin McHugh. They had struggled and would continue to struggle with that 5th spot in the rotation and things got dicier when the team had to put 4th starter on the IL at the end of June.
Somehow the team managed a winning record in June (15-12) and then as the wounded began to return they did even better in July (16-8). Even with all that, the shape of their pitching rotation “Verlander, Cole and Miley and two days of your manager being Wily” scared the heck out of the Astros’ fandom. The trade pickups of Zack Greinke, Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini and Martin Maldonado has given the team a super boost that mirrors the Verlander pickup in 2017.
The changes since the beginning of May are pretty amazing:
- Correa, Altuve, Springer, Diaz and Stassi all come off of the IL. That meant all those at bats that went to Jack Mayfield, Derek Fisher, Myles Straw and Garret Stubbs came to and end.
- More importantly the musical chairs in the infield with Yuli Gurriel playing 3rd, Alex Bregman playing SS (or sometimes Mayfield or Straw) and Tyler White playing 1B ended also. The defense has tightened up quite a bit with folks in their rightful spots.
- Wunderkind Yordan Alvarez owns the DH spot that Tyler White could not even rent in 2019. In 80 more at bats, White had 8 less runs scored, 10 less HRs and 20 less RBIs. Alvarez’s .340 BA/ .422 OBP/ 1.115 OPS slash has been amazing in its consistency and in its quality. His 41 RBIs in 41 games is ROY great.
- Maldonado takes over the backup catcher spot from Stassi. Martin is not a great hitter, but in 3 games he already managed to match Stassi (in 31 games) with 4 runs scored and 1 homer. Oh and he caught 3 games that the Astros won and where the opponents scored 3 total runs and of course the no-hitter on Saturday.
- The 4th and 5th spot in the rotation, which have been a hodge podge of Framber Valdez, Corbin Martin, Jose Urquidy, Rogelio Armenteros, Josh James and the one start disaster that was Hector Rondon is now the hopefully rejuvenated Aaron Sanchez and All-World Zack Greinke. The Astros starting depth goes from questionable to formidable.
- Joe Biagini and his high spin rate subs in for Urquidy in the current bullpen adding to the humor rate and hopefully the performance rate.
- They still expect the return of Ryan Pressly, Josh James and Brad Peacock between now and the end of the year.
The bottom line is that the Astros since the end of May have added in (or added back) 6 former All-Stars to a roster that was pretty strong before the additions. They have to prove it all on the field, but they have a team that can be as tough as any in the majors going forward.