Where do the Houston Astros stand in a crowded American League West playoff race?
The Houston Astros are loaded. We knew they would have an excellent lineup top to bottom and a rotation that looked, heading into the 2018 season, like the best in baseball. But since the All-Star Game, Houston has scuffled. They missed an opportunity to bury the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s this weekend after they were swept by the basement-dwelling Texas Rangers at home. They’re still atop the division because the A’s couldn’t score in Denver against the Colorado Rockies, and the Mariners dropped two of three against the Los Angeles Angels.
But chinks in the armor are showing. As of this writing (before Seattle and Houston play Monday evening), the Houston Astros have a four-game lead over the Mariners and a six-game lead over Oakland. Houston is still an incredibly deep, talented team, but injuries are sapping their world-beating power. Yesterday, Houston made a roster move they have never done before: they sent All-Star second baseman and defending American League MVP Jose Altuve to the Disabled List with knee soreness.
Altuve joins stud shortstop Carlos Correa on the DL. We don’t know exactly what Altuve’s injury will do to Houston (Probably nothing good. Altuve was slashing .329/.392/.464 with 14 steals in 16 tries before he went down), but without Correa, the Astros have gone 15-12. The emergence of Alex Bregman to elite status this year, and Bregman’s ability to play shortstop, has softened the blow, but losing Correa has hampered the Astros.
George Springer struggled through June and July, but with three home runs since the All-Star break, he looks like he’s back among the living at just the right time. A greater concern is the Houston bullpen, which has been brutal over the past two weeks, sporting an 8.42 ERA during that span. The Ken Giles saga is over in Houston. 19 days after cussing out his manager, Giles was, after being demoted to AAA, shipped to Toronto for Roberto Osuna, who will be reinstated from his 75-game suspension for beating his wife on August 5th.
The Astros are in Seattle for a crucial three-game series. Settling their bullpen down and leaning on their still-extremely-good starting pitching will keep the offensively-struggling Mariners away from their AL West perch. We shall see.
Rest of the West
The Mariners are quietly adding arms for the stretch run. They traded for reliever Sam Tuivailala, a righty specialist from the St. Louis Cardinals. On Monday, wheeling and dealing General Manager Jerry Dipoto added reliever Adam Warren from the New York Yankees and reliever Zach Duke from the Minnesota Twins. Dipoto reportedly gave up international signing money for Warren, and two minor leaguers for Duke. That Dipoto is aggressively adding Major League pitchers just before the Trade Deadline is not surprising, but what puzzles me is not adding a bat. The Mariners have struggled mightily scoring runs all month, with only 73 runs scored in July. They scored 126 in June.
Baseball is weird. Oakland has a better run differential and a better record on the road than at home. You’d think that they’d be able to score some runs a mile above sea level in Denver this weekend. Not so. They were swept in three games, during which they scored four runs. They’re managing with a patchwork of a rotation, but they need to score more runs if they’re going to stay in the race.
The Rangers finally moved Cole Hamels, but probably for less than they wanted. It’s hard to fault Hamels for not pitching his best for a losing team intent on selling him off, but his rough July damaged his trade value immensely.
The Angels appear to be biding their time at the Trade Deadline this year. They want to keep pieces around for what could be The Chosen One’s, I mean Mike Trout’s, last year in L.A., next year, but they’re also unlikely to climb over both Oakland and Seattle this year for a Wild Card berth.