For most of the 2020 season, fans have thought that the Astros would be in the playoffs. As recently as last Friday, the Astros entered the first game of the Angel series with a 6-1/2 game lead for second place in the AL West division which would have guaranteed them a playoff spot about three weeks from now.
Now after the carnage of a Lost Weekend at Anaheim, where the team not only lost 4 games in the span of less than 48 hours, but lost them in a very disheartening manner, the picture is not so clear.
The Astros only have a 3 game lead over the 3rd place Mariners in their division. They currently are tied for the 7th spot in the AL playoff race, which means either they or the Yankees are the current 8th place team and if the M’s overtook them they could miss both the second place spot, and a Wild Card spot also. On top of that they play the next 7 games on the road against the A’s (who swept them in Oakland earlier) and the Dodgers (who swept them in Houston earlier). Oh, and their pitching is a bit of a shambles with Justin Verlander still out, Lance McCullers Jr. going 0 innings in his last start and ending up on the IL, and Jose Urquidy on a pitch count as he returns from COVID.
The Astros have had three things happen in the last few games that could drop the team off the cliff.
- Four doubleheaders in a 14-game period due to COVID, hurricane and protest.
- Short starts in three of the last four games (0 innings McCullers, 3.2 innings for Brandon Bielak and Urquidy)
- Pitchers, especially the bullpen, have lost leads or lost ball games late in each of the 4 Angel losses. Though truth to tell when you have blown saves by Enoli Paredes and Humberto Castellanos things are not running per Hoyle anyways.
The pitching staff is at a tipping point. On the positive side they have gotten great starts from the likes of Zack Greinke, Cristian Javier and until Sunday Framber Valdez, who gutted things out mightily until being asked to pitch one inning too long. They do have Jose Urquidy, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock back, though only Urquidy pitched effectively on the weekend.
They do have Justin Verlander sightings as he is now working off a mound. But they also are staring at two games in the upcoming Oakland series lined up to be started by Luis Garcia and the ubiquitous TBD. Despite a sterling 4 2/3 innings by Garcia in relief of McCullers on Friday, it is a lot to expect from a young man who had never pitched above A+ ball to start a key game against the 1st place team in the division.
A key morale booster would be Alex Bregman‘s return to the lineup, which is expected soon and the return of Jose Altuve, which may be a bit longer. Along with their bats, the team has been missing their gloves the last few games.
It is highly critical that the Astros get six or seven innings from Greinke and Javier and save the fragments of the bullpen for the Garcia and TBD games. If the team can survive this week, the rest of the season features much easier fare between the Rangers, D’Backs and Mariners. But it won’t make a difference if they don’t play better than they did against the Angels.