Astros Finish July on a Low Note
When the Astros wrapped up a 3-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels with a 13-3 win on Sunday, July 24, I decided that if they could take 2 games out of 3 from the Yankees, the headline on my monthly report would read, “Have the Astros Ever Had a Better Month?” They had cut the Rangers lead in the American League West Division from 10 ½ games to 2 ½ games, they were basically injury-free, they were about to bring up Alex Bregman, widely regarded as the best prospect in baseball and they signed the top player from Cuba, Yulieski Gourriel, to report in August. Dallas Keuchel had appeared to have regained his 2015 form and Jose Altuve was making a strong case to be the AL MVP.
Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. The Astros did not take two out of three from the Yankees, winning only the third game to avoid a sweep. Things became worse when they were swept in three games in Detroit on two blowouts and a walk-off. The Texas Rangers began winning again and increased their lead over the Astros to six games, Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, Marwin Gonzalez and Luke Gregerson were lost to injuries, Bregman had the same number of hits in his first five games that I did and Keuchel was torched for six runs in the first inning in one of the Detroit games.
The Astros finished the month with a record of 13-12. As a team, the Astros rank pretty much in the middle among major league teams in most offensive categories for the season with a couple of exceptions. They lead the American league in stolen bases and their batters lead the AL in strikeouts and are third in bases on balls. They have scored an average of 4.50 runs per game while allowing 4.13.
Despite the meltdown in the last week of July, the Astros pitching has been better than average for the season and in July. The ERA of 3.88 ranks 8th among all major league teams and third in the American League behind Cleveland and Toronto. The major league average ERA is 4.16.
Individually, Jose Altuve continues to excel. His batting average of .356 is 27 points higher than his closest AL competitor. He hit .354 in July and light-hitting, Jake Marisnick, batted .326. George Springer, Luis Valbuena, Carlos Correa and Marwin Gonzalez all hit between .258 and .269 in July but the other position players were all below .235. Cody Rasmus hit only .074 in July. Altuve had a .400 on-base-percentage in July and he, along with Springer and Evan Gattis had slugging averages of over .500.
Lance McCullers was the Astros’ best starting pitcher in July with three wins and an ERA of 2.08. Ken Giles did not allow a run in any of his nine relief appearances and recorded 18 strikeouts with only 2 walks. Will Harris had 4 of the teams 6 saves in July but had an ERA of 6.75.
The outlook for the final two months of the season does not look promising. Much of the Astros success has come at the expense of the three West Coast teams in the AL West (24-12) including a 10-1 record against the California Angels. A three game series against Oakland at the end of the month is the only time they will meet any of these teams in August and they begin the month with a tough home stand against Toronto (4 games) and Texas (3 games).
The Rangers picked up two All-Stars, Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy, at the trade deadline and other AL playoff contenders, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and Cleveland also made deadline deals to strengthen the team for the stretch run. Meanwhile, the Astros attempted to make some deals but fell short and turned out to be a seller, trading pitcher, Scott Feldman, to Toronto for an 18-year-old minor league prospect. Maybe they will be better off not making a deal since the two deadline trades last year for Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez did not turn out the way they had hoped.
In order for the Astros to make the playoffs, several things need to happen:
- Dallas Keuchel must regain some semblance of his 2015 Cy Young Award form.
- Alex Bregman must show he can hit Major League pitching.
- The team must get more offense from players outside of Altuve, Correa and Springer. In the 3-2 loss to the Tigers, the big three had five hits and the rest of the team did not have any.
- The bullpen must cut down on blown saves. It may be time to install Ken Giles in the closer role and put Will Harris back in the set-up role where he was effective.
- They must win in the remaining nine games against the Texas Rangers. They have won only once in ten games against the Rangers so far.
It sounds like a tall order, but stranger things have happened.