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.

There is a lot going on for the Astros besides trade talk

Astros roundup: Correa and Diaz nearing a return, another Silver Boot win and more

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While many are keeping a steady pulse on trade rumors as the July 31st deadline nears, the Astros have a few other moving pieces worth giving an in-depth look. Can they finish the season with the best overall record? Will they lock up the division well before game 162? What will the return of Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz mean for the defense and batting order?

Let's take a stab at some of these questions while we wait for some trades to start coming through the wire:

The Silver Boot stays in Houston as Astros continue to bash AL West at home

The 2019 Astros remain a vastly improved team from the 2016 squad that went 4-15 against their rivals up I-45. Since that year, the Astros went on to post back-to-back 12-7 records against the Rangers, winning the silver boot in both 2017 and 2018.

This weekend, Houston locked it up once again, sweeping the Rangers in the three-game series. That gave them wins ten and eleven of the nineteen total games, securing the season series with two games left against Texas this year.

The three-game sweep also moved the Astros to 15-1 at home against their division. Houston's remaining schedule features twenty-two of the remaining sixty-one games of the season against the AL West at Minute Maid Park. That stretch of games starts tonight with a three-game series with the second-place A's.

Potentially light schedule remaining

Speaking of the division, the Astros currently lead theirs by 6.5 games. That lead, paired with their success this year against the division, has them at a 99.0% chance to lock up another AL West pennant, according to FanGraphs.

Those odds could also factor in Houston's remaining strength of schedule. Of the remaining twenty series the Astros have, eleven of those are against teams currently over .500 while the other nine are not. Of note, out of those eleven, seven are against the A's, Rangers, or Angels, whom the Astros have been successful against this season so far.

Some of the marquis matchups remaining on the schedule include next week's trip to Cleveland to face the Indians for three games, hosting the Rays for three games at the end of august, then a two-game set with the Brewers in Milwaukee at the beginning of September.

Should Houston take care of business and stay healthy, they could easily regain the top spot in the overall MLB standings, win the race to 100 wins, and even potentially lock up the best overall record at the end of the season.

The return of Correa and Diaz

With both nearing the end of their rehab assignments, the Astros should get both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz back this week. The return of these two pieces is one step closer to the Astros being a fully healthy team. Granted, they have not had extreme struggles during any of the injuries this season.

Diaz will help provide some depth at various positions on the field, allowing for more scheduled rest days that the Astros will be grateful for down the stretch towards the playoffs. His return will be especially helpful at first base, where the recent move to take Tyler White off the roster leaves Houston short-handed.

Another position that will receive a boost this week is shortstop. While Myles Straw has done a fine job of covering the position, as has Alex Bregman, it's no question that Carlos Correa is an upgrade defensively. The intriguing question will be: how does he shake up the batting order?

Before sustaining his rib injury, Correa was batting fifth behind Michael Brantley. Now, with Yordan Alvarez in that slot in the lineup and performing remarkably well, where will A.J. Hinch stick Correa? Do you put him ahead of Yuli Gurriel, as hot as he's been, or put him as far down as seventh? I suppose it's a good problem to have for a manager.

Several bats heating up

When considering how to plug Correa back into the lineup, it'll be a fun assignment trying to align a few bats that have been heating up, and staying hot, recently. Jose Altuve is one of those, who before his injury on May 10th had started his season out with a disappointing .243 average.

Altuve has been on a momentum-building tear of late, though, increasing that average up to .273 and posting multi-hit games in twelve of his twenty-six games since returning to the lineup. In contrast from Altuve who is working his way back to a .300 average, there's Michael Brantley.

Brantley has not seen a batting average under .300 since April 19th. He currently sits at .332, which is good for second in the American League and fifth in the entire league. His consistency has been a great asset to the Astros.

Another guy that has been putting up highlights nearly every day, at least recently, is Yuli Gurriel. He has been absolutely red-hot in the sample size of his last twenty-two games. In that stretch, dating back to June 23rd, Gurriel has gone 34-for-91 for a .374 average and driven in 28 runs including 13 home runs.

Oh, and let's not forget the rookie who is living up to the hype, Yordan Alvarez. He continues to shine in his early major-league career, slashing .333 / .406 / .675 to maintain an OPS over 1.000, currently at 1.081. While his home runs have been the highlight, all ten of them so far, he has also shown he can come through with clutch hits. Alvarez notched one more RBI on Sunday, raising his total in his rookie campaign to 34. He continues to shoot his way up the Rookie of the Year predictions, and for a good reason.

While the surging offense does not erase the need for a fresh arm for the rotation, it does give Houston a better chance to bail out days with below-average pitching.

So again, while trades will dominate the headlines in the coming days as teams try to either fortify their 2019 roster or tear down for a future rebuild, the Astros have plenty to keep them occupied while they wait to see what their front office comes away with before the deadline.

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