The Astros have about six weeks to go in the 2022 season. They look like a shoo-in for the playoffs. But that does not mean there is no meaning to the 30+ games remaining in the season.
Here are a few items to be decided down the stretch……
- Making the playoffs. Looking like shoo-ins for the playoffs and making it are two different things. The Astros’ first step is to play well enough to make it in, which could happen sometime in the second and third week of September. We hope….
- Confirm a spot. The other step involved here is confirming their “seed”. Right now, the Astros would have the top spot in the AL. Of course, every other playoff option is still in play. The betting money at this time would have them in one of the first two spots and earning a bye rather than having the third best division winner record or a wild card spot in the wild-card round.
- Figure out that rotation. And this may well vary by playoff round. In general, teams can get by with four starters for the playoffs. The Astros have six good to great starters, and they will likely go into the playoffs with Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers in the top 3 spots and filling in behind them with one of Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, and Luis Garcia as the fourth. The “other” two will likely be in the bullpen for the playoffs, available if a pitcher goes out early or as a multi-inning tandem option.
- Figure out that bullpen. This is perhaps the most worrisome part of the team right now, as the high leveraged innings have been filled with the opponent’s scoring runs the last few weeks. Is this just a normal short-term funk, or some of the pitchers falling back towards more career norms? With a four-man rotation, the Astros would likely carry a nine-man bullpen. This potentially includes the two additional starters mentioned above: Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Bryan Abreu. The last two spots would seem to be Phil Maton, and Will Smith, as unappetizing as that may be. Both have been pretty spotty lately and both were very good in the 2021 playoffs. The only really other likely candidate is Seth Martinez, who pitched well in low leverage situations this season. Might the Astros give someone like Hunter Brown a tryout in September to see if he could make the playoff roster? It does not feel like something the Astros would do.
- Get the bat(s) rolling. It is always a good thing to have some hitters going crazy in the playoffs, ala George Springer. The one bat that the Astros badly need to get rolling again is Yordan Alvarez, who has not looked like himself since coming back from the IL. The big bats of Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman and warm streaks from Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, and Chas McCormick have helped the offense improve lately. But nothing could supercharge the offense like a solid playoff run from Yordan.
- Health and rest. As the Astros saw in the 2021 postseason with McCullers, a late season or playoff injury can badly hurt a team’s chances. No one needs to tell Dusty Baker to give his players plenty of rest, so that will probably happen organically no matter how much that may drive all the fans crazy. The big question with health is the starting pitching. Verlander is in his first season after Tommy John surgery at an age that few pitchers have had the surgery and success. Valdez, Javier, and Urquidy have already reached career highs in innings with 6 weeks to go in the season. Garcia will likely end up close to his career high from 2021. All of these guys will be monitored coming down the stretch and through the playoffs.
So, what is important in your mind as the team rolls towards the regular season’s end?