On the first day of August, the Houston Astros were sitting uncontested at the top of the division and first in the American League in wins having 10 more than the second-place Boston Red Sox.
Since then, the Astros have lost every series through Aug. 20 and have gone a disappointing 6-9. Not only does this inconsistency cause concern for Astros fans but the level of competition they have been losing to is also a worrying pattern as we get closer to the playoffs.
Despite being only three games out of the wild card spot, the Tampa Bay Rays have had a losing record since the All-Star break, the Toronto Blue Jays have been sitting at the bottom of the AL East all season while the White Sox and Rangers have been struggling all season.
While Houston still sits atop the AL in terms of wins and the only threat in the division is the surging Angels who sit 13 games back, this month has not been a promising sign of potential success in the postseason.
So what is wrong with the Astros?
The answer is fairly straightforward: injuries.
The most obvious injury that has created a glaring hole in the Astros’ lineup is young phenom Carlos Correa. The shortstop went down in mid-July with a thumb injury and is expected to be out until mid-September. Utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who has been having the best offensive season of his career, has struggled since filling in for Correa. He has average .208 with just two home runs and 14 RBI.
Outfielder Derek Fisher has also been struggling massively offensively this August averaging below .200 with two RBI. The Astros also have had injury problems at catcher with both Evan Gattis and Brian McCann out for most of the month with a concussion and knee tendinitis respectively.
As many teams have proved in the past though, it’s possible to make a World Series run despite slow offenses if the team has the pitching to make up for it. Unfortunately, the injury bug has also struck that part of the club as well.
The Astros bullpen has lost four pitchers as of late-August. One of whom, Will Harris, was one of the better relievers for the Astros this season with a 2.86 ERA. Out of all the healthy relievers, only Chris Devenski has an ERA below 4.00 and unfortunately, the Astros starting rotation isn’t much better.
Dallas Keuchel had been his typical ace-self until he went on the disabled list in late July and since his return, he’s posted a 4.76 ERA in the month of July. Righty Charlie Morton was promoted to the number two spot in the rotation after Lance McCullers Jr. went to the DL with back discomfort.
Morton has been overall solid for the Astros as of lately posting a 3.32 ERA this month, better than his ERA of 3.69 on the season. Mike Fiers might be having the worst month of anyone in the rotation with a 7.48 earned run average in August including giving up six runs to Texas and Tampa Bay.
At the bottom of the rotation is Collin McHugh who has consistently been hovering around 5.00 ERA since returning from an elbow injury. McHugh has pitched well this August allowing just one run to Tampa Bay and two runs to Arizona in his last start.
Houston’s No. 5 starter Brad Peacock has been a source of stability for the Astros this season but has struggled massively in August. He allowed seven runs against the Blue Jays and four to the Diamondbacks.
So when looking at the Astros’ situation with poor pitching and a lineup with a slew of injuries, they’re struggles are hardly a surprise. The good news for Astros fans is most of the players on the disabled list will likely return before the playoffs and McCullers will return to the rotation to provide some stability.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Keuchel as he attempts to right the ship post-injury. Ultimately, Houston’s struggles are easily looking like a common experience in the 162-game season.
Injuries often lead teams to struggle for a few weeks but when all return, the turbulence is simply a memory of the past. Even the white-hot Dodgers went 6-10 in a similar situation in April.
But just like turbulence on an airplane, no one will truly feel good about the situation until it all passes.
Tad Desai is the sports and education reporter for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.