Let's discuss the keys to a stellar second half for Astros

Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.
Getting Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa back will be huge. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
MLB projected win totals are coming out and the Astros sit alone at the top

After an incredible come from behind victory to beat the New York Yankees on Sunday, the Astros now sit at top the American League West standings with a 55-36 record.

As it currently stands, Houston has the 2nd best record in the American League only behind the Chicago White Sox.

With the official first half of the MLB season in the books, the Astros look to continue their winning ways and make a playoff run for the 5th consecutive year.

Here are the keys to Houston's success entering the second half of the 2021 season.

In order for the Astros to continue their winning ways, they need consistent production from their All-Stars. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Michael Brantley and Ryan Pressly all made the All-Star team this season. Although none of them are playing in the Midsummer Classic this year, they will use this opportunity to heal existing injuries and spend time with their families.

Atluve has a .278 batting average and leads the team in home runs with 20 this season. His latest was a three-run, walk-off home run against the aforementioned Yankees.

The other All-Star sluggers Correa and Brantley have and great seasons as well with Correa continuing to showcase he is one of the best shortstops in the game at the plate and on the field. Brantley is continuing to mash at the plate as he leads the team in bating average and is 2nd in the American League (behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) with a .326 average.

One Astros hitter who should have been an All-Star was Yuli Gurriel. He leads the team with 96 hits this season and has a .313 batting average with 54 RBI's. The first basemen is putting up career numbers across the board and has become one of the Astros best hitters this season.

Other Astros hitters who have made tremendous progress are Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw. When George Springer and Josh Reddick left the team after the 2020 season, both Straw and Tucker were given the opportunity to become everyday players for the Astros. Both outfielders got off to slow starts to start the season, but have become tremendous guys Dusty Baker can put in his lineup consistently.

This Astros hitting core leads the league in runs, hits, batting average and OPS. It's safe to say if the Astros continue to hit consistently, this team can defeat any team in the league.

Finally, Houston is expecting to get some of their injured players back here soon. Both Alex Bregman and Aledmys Diaz should be back to bolster this batting lineup and give the Astros some depth. Jose Urquidy should be back soon as well to help out this starting rotation.

After the All-Star break, the Astros will head to Chicago to start a three-game series with the White Sox before coming home for a six-game homestand against the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers.

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With both Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers making their way back from surgeries that sideline that Astros pitchers last season, and given the team's thin depth in their starting rotation, Houston fans and media have waited on bated breath for scraps of information to leak out of the notoriously secretive organization regarding their progress.

In a week full of mostly Hurricane Beryl-related bad news, the Astros organization had some discouraging news of their own when manager Joe Espada told the media that Lance McCullers has been shut down from pitching after his arm did not respond well to his latest bullpen session. The team says they are "formulating a plan for what's next."

Another Astros starter making his way back from injury is HOF-bound Justin Verlander. Verlander has been on the IL since June 16th with neck discomfort and, while there was initial hope that JV would only miss a start, his status has become increasingly murky as he is still apparently not close to returning.

Shifting from the health questions of the starters to the performance questions of the bullpen, some Houston fans have voiced concern via social media that Astros big-ticket 9th inning pitcher Josh Hader is not looking like a "shut-down" closer. Hader gave up more home runs in the first week of July (3) as he did the entire month of June (2).

In this week's episode of Stone Cold Stros, Charlie Pallilo and Brandon Strange discuss how the fluid dynamics of Astros pitching is impacting the competitive landscape of the division race. To watch the conversation, just click the video YouTube embedded in this article. To listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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