November 22, 2017

Wheels Come Off for Astros in August

September 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

After four strong months, the Houston Astros fell on hard times in August with injuries and poor performance.  The team suffered its first losing month this season with a record of 11-17 in August.  Things should get better in September with players returning from injuries and the acquisition of former MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander.

Despite the poor performance in August, the Astros still lead the major leagues in most offensive categories: batting average (.284), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.484), runs per game (5.53) and fewest strikeouts (895).  They are second in home runs with 204, one behind the Orioles with 205.

The pitching numbers are not as impressive.  The ERA is 4.14 compared to the MLB average of 4.35 which ranks 12th.  However, the pitching staff ranks first in the majors in striking out opposing batters.  It was widely expected that the Astros would acquire a starting pitcher prior to the non-waiver trading deadline on July 31.  However these efforts were unsuccessful.  The Astros did pick up two relief pitchers, Francisco Liriano and Tyler Clippard, to bolster the bullpen but neither have performed consistently and have ERA’s over 6.00.

The month had more lowlights than highlights.  They played the entire month without shortstop Carlos Correa and pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr., who were still on the disabled list at the end of the month.  At one point, both catchers were on the disabled list requiring the use of two minor league catchers for several games.  The team started the month with a 3-game losing streak and later lost 5 in a row, including a 3-game sweep by the Chicago White Sox, the weakest team in the league.  Hurricane Harvey also had an effect, forcing a three game home series with the Texas Rangers to be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida when the Rangers refused to swap locations with a September series.  The Astros were clearly not focused in the series but managed one win in the 3-games.

Offensively, the team was led in August by Alex Bregman who batted .345 and also led the team in on-base percentage and slugging average.  He had a 14-game hitting streak in August including a 10-game streak when he collected an extra base hit in each game.  Yuli Gurriel and Jose Altuve both batted over .300 but they were the only other regulars who batted over .235.  Altuve’s average was only .304 in August but he still leads the league in hitting (.355) by a large margin and is among the leaders in several other categories.  A strong finish in September will put him in the conversation for AL MVP.

The Astros used only 5 starting pitchers in August and none won more than 2 games.  Collin McHugh (2.94) was the only one with an ERA under 4.00.  Ken Giles collected 5 saves in his 6 opportunities.

A major highlight in August occurred in the final minute of the month when the Astros acquired pitcher, Justin Verlander and super model, Kate Upton, from Detroit for three minor league players.  The players traded away are prospects but they are not among the Astros top prospects and they are all young and in the lower minors.

The Astros saw their 16 game lead in the AL West on August 1 drop to 11 ½ games at the end of the month.  The big challenge will be to finish with the best record in the AL in order to have the home advantage in the playoffs.  They enter September 3 ½ games ahead of the Cleveland Indians and 5 ½ games ahead of the Boston Red Sox.  They finish the season with a crucial 4 game series with the Red Sox in Boston.

If Verlander continues to pitch as well as he has since the All-Star break and the injured players come back strong, the Astros should win the AL West Division fairly easily and be in a good position to go deep in the playoffs.

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