As the 2020 Astros toddle along towards a possible playoff run (or in their case a possible playoff stroll), the fans are left in a bit of a quandary.
The last few years the team had an identity. From 2017 through 2019 they had 100+ wins each season and were a very dangerous club. In 2017, they were the best hitting club in the majors and the World Champion. In 2018, they were the defending World Champs and with a whole season of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole along with Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel, a lethal pitching team that was derailed by injuries and possible Red Sox shenanigans in the playoffs. In 2019 they were the best pitching team in the AL as Zack Greinke joined Cole, Verlander and Wade Miley down the stretch.
The 2020 Astros are harder to pinpoint and the biggest reason is that due to personnel losses, injuries and illness they have used 43 players over 49 games, 26 of them pitchers and 10 players making their major league debuts. It is obvious that they are not close to the 2017-2019 Astros, but it is not obvious who they are.
- Are they the team that ripped off 8 wins in a row in mid-August or recently lost 8 of 9 on a recent road trip?
- Are they the 17-7 home team or the 7-18 road team?
- Are they the team that until the last few days was #2 in the AL in runs per game or the team that scores less than 2.5 runs in their losses?
- Are they the team that thought their season would depend on the starting pitching of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr.and Jose Urquidy or the team that has had to depend on starters like Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia?
- Are they the team that featured a high flying core of their batting order in 2019 with George Springer (.292 BA/.974 OPS)), Jose Altuve (.298 BA/.903 OPS), Alex Bregman (.296 BA/ 1.015 OPS), Yordan Alvarez (.313 BA/ 1.067 OPS), Yuli Gurriel (.298 BA/.884 OPS), Carlos Correa (.279 BA/ .926 OPS) and Michael Brantley (.311 BA/.875 OPS) or their anemic 2020 brothers with Springer (.240 BA/ .830 OPS), Jose Altuve (.221 BA/.604 OPS), Alex Bregman (.263 BA/ .833 OPS), Yordan Alvarez (out), Yuli Gurriel (.260 BA/ .749 OPS), Carlos Correa (.269 BA/ .730 OPS) and Michael Brantley (.295 BA/ .863 OPS)?
- Are they a team that is capable of winning when the chips are down or are they the team that is 7-12 in 1 run games and 2-6 in extra-inning games?
- Are they the hovering around .500 team that may back into the playoffs and immediately crash or are they the 2020 version of the Washington Nationals, who battled through injury all season to squeeze into the playoffs and then went on a magical run?
Fans know this team has not performed near to the level of the 2017-2019 teams, but (some) fans may feel that if Verlander and Urquidy and Altuve and McCullers and Bregman can get their sea legs under them after injuries, that this team might do magical things themselves in the playoffs.
But we just don’t know.