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Astros need to add a top flight pitcher for another title run

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Through 90 games of the season and at the All Star break, the Houston Astros are 57-33 with a seven and a half game lead in the AL West. They are currently in second place in the AL playoff race behind the New York Yankees. Under most circumstances, one would say this team is in prime position to make another playoff run. Despite all the injuries to key players (Altuve, Correa, Springer), they've been able to maintain their level of play and a stranglehold on the division lead.

Of all the things teams have done from last season up until now, most have tried to improve areas of weakness or shore up strengths. For example, the Yankees added one of this season's top homerun hitters in Edwin Encarnacion to an already strong lineup. The Astros have made minimal moves (Wade Miley signing) or promotion from within (Yordan Alvarez). Both moves have worked out well, but they aren't enough. Here's a few reasons why I think that way:


Forrest Whitley isn't walking through that door

Long rumored to be called up some time in June to give the team an extra year of control, Whitley is the top pitching prospect the organization has, but a "shoulder fatigue" injury has slowed him down. He started throwing off the mound about a month ago. If he hasn't been called up by now, chances are he's not coming up this year. They'd need to give him a few starts to get acclimated to the big league level before knowing if he can be relied upon in the postseason. That can't happen unless he's called up ASAP.

Justin Verlander's home run problem

When your ace has given up a near career high in homeruns before the All Star break, that's a problem. Verlander recently complained about MLB juicing the balls. While that may be the case, Verlander is still on pace for giving up nearly 50 homers this season. Most of them are early on in the game and of the solo variety. But being down early puts you at such a disadvantage, one that can be hard to overcome. Especially when...

Your best hitter isn't hitting very well

Jose Altuve is currently batting 52 points lower than his career .314 average. His OPS down 35 points from a career .816 average. those numbers have risen up in the last few games before the break and were much worse. Maybe he's still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Or maybe he's pressing knowing he should be performing better. Either way, if your best hitter isn't doing his thing, you'll need others to step up, or the pitching staff to cover offensive deficiencies. While Altuve isn't really pulling his weight, the rest of the lineup is trying to pick up his slack. I still feel this lineup can be hit or miss. Just see their slip ups versus the Pirates and Reds midseason.

Jeff Luhnow values prospects

Teams getting rid of top flight big league talent usually want prospects in return. It's understandable since they know the team trading for said talent is trying to win and won't likely part with any big league roster talent in return. Luhnow values prospects like they're air and/or water. I'm sorry, but I'd give up clean air or fresh water for a period of time if it meant I got closer to a life goal.

Do I have faith that this team can make another playoff run? Yes. Is that faith being tested? Hell yes! Do I think they're a World Series threat? I believe so, but the only way to heighten their chances is to add to the pitching staff with a top flight pitcher. Charlie Pallilo named four pitchers they should go after leading up to the hard trade deadline of July 31. While he lists some interesting pitchers, I believe there are others out there that may be had, but the price will be steep. So what price do you place on possibly winning another World Series? Would you be willing to part with a top prospect or two? Or are you willing to stand pat?

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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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