Can Houston win the battle against discomfort?

Are injuries jeopardizing the Astros' season?

Astros George Springer
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Astros have taken some big blows recently on the injury front. Jose Altuve hasn't played since May 10 after his hamstring injury. George Springer strained his hamstring on his first night back after missing several games with back tightness. Also this weekend Houston lost Max Stassi and Aledmys Diaz to other leg issues.

The discomforts are stacking up, and with that many will start to worry if all this missed time from these players will degrade the overall outcome of the 2019 season. My opinion on that matter at the moment is this: no, not really.

It's only May

Sure, it's the end of May, but still, it's early in the season. You hope injuries don't happen at any point in the season, but if they must, you'd prefer earlier than later. If you remember, Carlos Correa missed the first three games of the season with a neck strain, something that some conservative rest time has allowed him to play thus far fully healthy.

With so much season left, the Astros have plenty of time left to be conservative with players who need some time off, so they might as well take a slower approach and be sure that the players are 100 percent healthy before getting them back in the lineup.

Another side-benefit of allowing plenty of breathing room for these star players dealing with injuries: they can go on rehab assignments not only to get them back in rhythm but provide some veteran knowledge to some of the prospects we may see soon.

The division looks very winnable 

Early in the season, the Astros were looking up at the Mariners who started the season on an absolute tear. Since then, the Mariners have had a very tough stretch while the Astros have gone on to win series after series while putting together a couple of ten-game winning streaks.

It's of course too early to fly the division banner, but as of now, it's looking like even with some injuries along the way the Astros may find the AL West to be a division they can lock up well before the end of the season. However, they have a ton of AL West matchups in the second half which could either be cakewalks or fierce battles during the playoff push.

Strong depth 

One more reason that Houston can absorb a few players going on the injured list and take their time coming back, the team is balanced and has good depth. One way a team can keep the train moving with a few of their offensive leaders missing time: good pitching and defense. The Astros have plenty of that, including their rotation led by Justin Verlander, and strong defense including a strong left side of the infield and crazy athletic outfield.

There have been many plays on defense that have saved runs or stifled the momentum of opposing defenses, which along with a strong bullpen adds up to Houston's 8-5 record in one-run games. Despite moving Collin McHugh to the bullpen who would himself land on the injured list, the rest of the rotation has been solid, with Verlander having another Cy Young caliber year, Gerrit Cole leading the league in strikeouts, and Wade Miley and Brad Peacock racking up some quality starts.

A lot of defensive players can play multiple positions, which is a great benefit too. Yuli Gurriel can play first, second, or third. Tony Kemp can play second or in the outfield, and if needed Alex Bregman can play shortstop in addition to his now normal third base position. They're toeing the line of comfortability on infield versatility, but as of now, it's still manageable.

Put all of this together, and you've got a team that can still win plenty of games even with multiple injuries stacking up together. Even without Jose Altuve on the field and in the lineup, the Astros cruised along and rose to the top of the power rankings, and I think they still belong near the top of that list, for now, even with the other injuries that came later.

All of this said, even with the Astros being the best in the AL West, they need to ensure they can put themselves in a spot to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs because that will be one of the keys to a successful playoff run. That means that while the current injuries allow for plenty of time to play out, adding more, or more severe, injuries can make things challenging for the Astros in the rest of the season.

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Allen had high praise for Diggs. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Impersonal as it might seem to have their dynamic on-field relationship end with an exchange of phone texts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen made it clear on Thursday how much receiver Stefon Diggs meant to him during their four seasons together in Buffalo.

Allen made no mention of Diggs’ mercurial temperament or the occasional sideline flare-ups by expressing only praise in his first opportunity to discuss his now-former teammate being traded to the Houston Texans earlier this month.

“Just thanking him for everything that he did for me, and (I’ll) always have a spot in my heart for him. I’ll always love that guy like a brother. And I wish him nothing but the best,” Allen said, in disclosing what he texted to Diggs. “My lasting memory of Stef will be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today.”

Brought together in March 2020, when Buffalo gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Diggs in a trade with Minnesota, the duo went on to re-write many of Buffalo's single-season passing and scoring records, and lead the team to four straight AFC East titles.

Diggs, now 30, also brought an inescapable sense of drama with him in raising questions about his commitment to the Bills and whether his tight relationship with Allen had soured.

A day before being traded, Diggs posted a message, “You sure?” on the social media platform X in response to someone suggesting he wasn’t essential to Allen’s success.

Whatever hard feelings, if any, lingered as Buffalo opened its voluntary workout sessions this week were not apparent from Allen or coach Sean McDermott, who also addressed reporters for the first time since Diggs was traded.

“Stef’s a great player, really enjoyed our time together. Won a lot of games and he was a huge factor in winning those games. We’ll miss him,” McDermott said. “You never replace a player like Stef Diggs, and we wish him well.”

Allen turned his focus to the future and a Bills team that spent much of the offseason retooling an aging and expensive roster.

Aside from trading Diggs, salary cap restrictions led to Buffalo cutting respected center Mitch Morse, the breakup of a veteran secondary that had been together since 2017, and the team unable to afford re-signing No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis.

“I don’t think it’s a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger,” said Allen, entering his seventh NFL season. “I think it’s an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader. And to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we’ve brought in to our team. And that’s an opportunity, frankly, that I’m very excited about."

Despite the departures, the Bills offense is not exactly lacking even though general manager Brandon Beane is expected to target selecting a receiver with his first pick — currently 28th overall — in the draft next week.

Receiver Khalil Shakir enters his third year and tight end Dalton Kincaid enter his second following promising seasons. Buffalo also added veteran experience in signing free agent receiver Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins.

While Beane acknowledged the Bills lack a true No. 1 receiver, he noted there’s less urgency to fill that spot now than in 2020 because of how much the offense has developed under Allen.

“Now that Josh has ascended to the player he is, is that a requirement? I don’t think so,” Beane said.

Diggs’ role also began diminishing in the second half of last season, which coincided with Joe Brady replacing Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator. Brady placed an emphasis on adding balance to a pass-heavy attack and getting more receivers involved, which led to an uptick in production for Shakir and Kincaid.

While Diggs’ numbers dropped, Buffalo’s win total increased.

With the Bills at 6-6, Diggs ranked third in the NFL with 83 catches, seventh with 969 yards and tied for third with eight TDs receiving. Buffalo then closed the season with five straight wins in which Diggs combined for 24 catches for 214 yards and no scores.

”(Diggs) meant a lot. You look at the statistics, they don’t lie,” Allen said, in referring to Diggs topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. “I don’t get paid to make changes on the team. I get paid to be the best quarterback that I can be and try to lead the guys on this team.”

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