A 22-15 record well into the second month of the season, not a cause for panic but… It does raise some questions. A slightly slow start in Tampa Bay and Arlington starting 2-5 before going on a 10-game winning streak, including 3 sweeps, gave us a look at the potential for another title run. But since then, the team has gone 10-10in the last 16 with some major blows given by a 9-4&11-10 loss to the Rangers, 2-12 loss to Kansas City, and 9-5 to the Twins, we are looking at some concerns. Let me break it down:
Jose Altuve: The best player for the Astros is continuing to do his thing. Though his batting average is nowhere close to where we normally see it, currently sitting at .236, he is tied for third on the team in home runs (9) and fourth in RBIs (21). Altuve continues to be the heart and soul of the Astros year in and year out. If the rest of the bats can become more consistent, maybe the rollercoaster ride that has been the last 20 games will be an early season memory.
Michael Brantley: Boy was I absolutely wrong about the Michael Brantley signing! I knew Brantley was a good and solid player throughout his 10-year career with Cleveland. The 3-time All-Star joined the Astros on a 2-year $32 million dollar contract this off-season, and I honestly questioned the move. It wasn’t a move I personally criticized but just didn’t understand it. I felt pitching needs were higher with the departure Dallas Keuchel. Leading the Astros in batting average with .340 leads in RBIs with 27, and hitting 9 home runs he has been playing at an All-Star level with Altuve. He has been the biggest surprise of the season so far, which hopefully continues.
Justin Verlander: Number 35 is still doing Number 35 things. The Astros Ace has been the best part of the starting rotation that has otherwise been a little lackluster. Leading the team with an ERA of 2.86 and a 5-1 record in 8 starts, second in strikeouts with 60, he has been the absolute anchor for this pitching staff. Here’s to hoping the rest catch up.
Carlos Correa’s health: The All-Star shortstop has been a blessing since the team drafted him #1 overall. The curse has been his health. He has had a myriad of injuries all throughout his career. Back in November, he had surgery to repair a deviated septum. Carlos in 2018 was not the same Carlos we had in 2017, to say the least. So… naturally we wonder “How is his health going to hold up this season?” The man is back hitting .297, 9 homers, and 22 RBIs so far in 33 games. He is looking more like the All-Star we had in 2017. As long as his health stays well, they will be ready to get back into title contention.
The rest of the starting pitchers: While Verlander does his normal Verlander stuff, what happened to the rest of the starting rotation? Gerrit Cole, Colin McHugh, Brad Peacock, and Wade Miley have been inconsistent, to say the least. Peacock is the only other starter who has a winning record of 3-2 in 6 starts, who has bounced a bit between starting and bullpen duties. Cole has had a rough go to start the season. Colin McHugh, who was in the bullpen as a middle reliever last season, looks like he is trying to get used to being a fulltime starter again but struggling with an ERA of 6.37 in 8 games, and Wade Miley has been pedestrian. It is only May, so it is not time to hit the panic button yet.
Not resigning Dallas Keuchel: The Astros could use their former Cy Young winner may be a little more than ever. With Lance McCullers Jr out for the year due to Tommy John, they’re using Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock as starters this year. While,
yes, McHugh was a former starter he was in the bullpen last year because of the superstar starting 5 of Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, McCullers, and Morton the team could use a more solid option in the middle or end of the rotation. Even if it’s on a one or two year deal to possibly reset his market, he was a valuable part of the rise of the team’s success since 2015 and helping win the 2017 World Series. He is an eternal part of team history, let him help make more history.
Gerrit Cole: Like I just said, it is only May so I’m not going to panic. But it doesn’t mean I won’t express some early concerns. I know the 9 runs, 8 earned, against the Rangers on April 20th inflated his ERA badly. But he does lead the team with 74 strikeouts, there are silver linings in the rocky start to the year. He has been able to lower his ERA down to an okay 4.17 to show a slow return to the dominant pitcher we saw last season.
Hot bats and cold nights: As I referenced earlier, lately it has been a rollercoaster. We have had nights during and since the 10-game winning streak where the bats were smoking everything with 15 wins of higher than 5 runs scored. But as we reach soaring heights, we must come falling down. A lot of 1-2 run losses, a few bigger losses, and a shutout, and bats falling quiet at the wrong times. I don’t plan on putting a whole lot of weight into it, I’d prefer early season slumps versus late season slumps that would affect playoff pushes. It takes time to overcome, but this team overcame a hurricane to their first world series so a few early season hiccups shouldn’t derail them in the long run.
Which pitching prospects to call up and when: It’s May and the pitching hasn’t been bad enough to warrant a call up yet. But with Josh James being rocked really with the Astros this season, who would we consider calling up as a replacement or spark plug. Forrest Whitley has had a real rough going with AAA Round Rock Express, posting an 0-2 record in 5 games and a startling 10.43 ERA. If he can lower that ERA later in the season, he could be a late July early August addition. Corbin Martin, in my opinion, would be the best pitching prospect to call up for either an end of rotation spot or bullpen. Going 1-1 in 5 games and a fantastic 1.48 ERA only giving up 1 home run and striking out 28 batters, the Astros need to keep a close eye on. That kind of production could be the spark the team could need to regain confidence in themselves to be more consistent.