Houston's performance on the road in 2019 has not matched recent years

Have the Astros lost their edge on the road?

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Despite an amazing comeback attempt that came up just short on Sunday, the loss dropped them below .500 on the road in 2019. Although overall the Astros are still in decent shape overall at 13-8 after 21 games, their recent struggles to win games on the road, especially this past weekend in Arlington, are something to take note of. Houston is 7-8 away from Minute Maid Park so far this season, a record that, if kept at that pace, could spell disaster for the Astros' season.

One of the trademarks of the excellent 2017 and 2018 campaigns was their success on the road. In 2017 they went 53-28 (.654 winning percentage) and in 2018 they did even better, going 57-24 (.704 winning percentage). The current pace of .467 would have them finishing a terrible 38-43 on the road, which would simply be too much to overcome even with a great record at home.

It Starts with Pitching

Other than Justin Verlander who is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA on the road, the rest of the rotation has shown unease as visiting pitchers, with Gerrit Cole (1-3, 5.64 ERA), Collin McHugh (1-2, 6.91 ERA) and Wade Miley (0-2, 4.50 ERA) all posting some concerning numbers playing away. We saw two of the biggest offenders of this in Cole and McHugh's dreadful starts in Arlington this past weekend where they combined for 17 earned runs over just seven and two-thirds innings. Luckily, the bullpen has been relatively strong both at home or on the road, something they'll need to continue for the rest of the year.

Hot and Cold Offense

Despite a few high run totals in some big games on the road, the Astros currently sit at a +6 run differential as the away team in fifteen games, a considerable gap from the +14 they have after just six home games. In addition, after being at the top of the charts on offensive runs per game in away games in 2017 and 2018 by averaging over 5 runs per game, it's been a slower, though not terrible, offensive start on the road for the Astros in 2019, averaging 4.13 runs, a number which itself was just largely boosted with the ten runs on Sunday afternoon in the loss to the Rangers. The offense will need to find a more steady and consistent rhythm to make sure they aren't wasting good starts from their pitchers and are able to back up a starter who may have a slightly poor day.

Have to Win Division Matchups

It's one thing to lose three of four against the Rays to start the season, but the Astros will have to take control of their division series this season to ensure that a team within their division doesn't make their playoff position harder or even nonexistent. Houston looked great when they went to Seattle and swept the Mariners, but splitting with the A's in Oakland and going 2-4 against the Rangers in Arlington could spell trouble if they don't flip the script on those teams in the remaining matchups this season.

Small, Road-Heavy Sample Size

All the above being said, it's still just been 15 of 81 road games they will play this season, and on top of that, the team can be given some benefit of the doubt of being road-weary considering only six of their first twenty-one games have been at home. This could all easily be a temporary dark spot on their record that they erase with a couple of great road trips before we even get to the halfway point in the season. I'm willing to bet they shrug off these recent road woes and get it back on track.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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