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

Astros third baseman Carlos Correa celebrates after a big home run in game two of the ALCS
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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