Astros Remain in Wild Card Contention in August
The Houston Astros compiled a record of 16-13 in August bringing the season total to 71-62. They have the 8th best record in the American League, 8 ½ games behind the Division Leading Texas Rangers and one game behind the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild card slot. They have virtually no chance to win the Division but remain in contention for the final wild card. However, it will take a much better month in September to get there.
In my report last month, I outlined five things that the Astros must do to have a chance to win the Division. Unfortunately, they only did one.
- Dallas Keuchel must regain his 2015 Cy Young form. He had his best month of the season, winning 3 of his 5 starts. However, he was hit hard in the other two and has not had the consistency he displayed last year. In one of his five starts, he was down 5-0 in the second inning when the game was rained out.
- Alex Bregman must show he can hit major league pitching. He did, raising his batting average from .045 at the end of July to .237 at the end of August while hitting 5 home runs and batting .274 for the month.
- The team must get more offense from players other than Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Evan Gattis had a good month, hitting .311 with 5 home runs and a slugging average of .544, but the rest of the regulars continued to be largely unproductive.
- They must cut down on blown saves. Ken Giles was 6 for 6 as the closer, but the rest of the relief corps was 1 for 4.
- They must find a way to beat the Texas Rangers. They lost 2 out of 3 to the Rangers in early August at home and have two more series with them in September.
The team was very streaky in August. They started the month by losing 5 out of 7 at home to Toronto and Texas before a 4-game winning streak on the road followed by a 5 game losing streak. They then finished the month by winning 10 of 12.
The schedule in September is extremely tough at the start. The first 13 games are all against first place teams starting with the Rangers in Arlington for three games followed by a trip to Cleveland for a four game series. The Chicago Cubs then come to Houston for three games followed by the Rangers for three more. The schedule gets easier at that point with the remaining 16 games all against the three West Coast members of the AL West Division.
In August, Altuve again led the Astros with a batting average of .333 which actually lowered his season average. Newcomer, Yulieski Gourriel, from Cuba, started strong, batting .318 in his first 8 games. The top of the lineup was very productive. Springer scored 25 runs and Bregman scored 23 while Altuve drove in 27 and Correa drove in 23. Two of the team’s top power hitters, Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus, missed essentially the entire month with injuries and Valbuena is out for the season. Rasmus is back playing in September.
It was an up and down month for pitching. The Clubs best pitcher in July, Lance McCullers, went down with a shoulder injury after his first start in August. His status for September is not yet known. He was replaced in the rotation by rookie prospect, Joe Musgrove, who had three good starts and two bad ones. Astros pitchers allowed a batting average of .259 in August, slightly above the league average but gave up only 55 walks, lowest in MLB while striking out 274, highest in MLB, for an outstanding strikeout to walk ratio of 4.98.
The Astros scored 4.76 runs per game in August and allowed 4.31. For the season, they have scored 4.56 runs per game and allowed 4.17. The team ERA is 3.90 for the season compared to the major league average of 4.20.
The Rangers and the Astros took different approaches at the trade deadline in preparation for the stretch run. As they did successfully last year, the Rangers traded prospects for All-Stars, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, and signed Carlos Gomez after he was released by the Astros. Gomez didn’t hit a home run for the Rangers until his first at-bat and then went 0 for 16 before hitting a grand slam in his 7th game while batting .160. General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, of the Astros resisted the temptation to trade Bregman and their minor league power pitchers for immediate help, relying on Gurriel and Bregman to help the offense. Another veteran starting pitcher would have made the Astros job less difficult.
We should know in about 2 weeks if the Astros will repeat as a wild card entry in post season playoff competition.