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Unlocking success: Here are the essential keys to propel an Astros turnaround

Astros Justin Verlander, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman
The Astros host the Guardians at Minute Maid on Tuesday night. Composite Getty Image.

To say this season has not started off well for the Astros is an understatement, for they currently sit in last place in the American League West with a 9-19 record.

That being said, there are still 134 games left to be played and Houston has everything they need to turn things around and get back to their winning ways.

Players returning from the injured list

The Astros began this season with multiple pitchers on the injured list including Justin Verlander, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. just to name a few. As time went on, other players saw time on the IL including Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez, thus forcing Houston to continuously adjust their rotation on the fly to mixed results.

Ronel Blanco (3-0) has been the one bright spot for the Astros so far. After throwing a no-hitter against the Blue Jays, the 30-year-old all but solidified his spot in the rotation and has arguably become Houston's best pitcher this year.

Other than Blanco, the Astros' rotation has struggled throughout much of this season, with pitchers Hunter Brown, J.P. France, Spencer Arrighetti and Blair Henley combining to have a 0-10 record and a 9.49 ERA through 54 innings pitched.

Things seem to be turning around as both Verlander and Valdez have returned to the rotation and look as if they are back to normal. More reinforcements could be arriving soon, as Javier and Urquidy have started to throw bullpen sessions, thus indicating their returns could happen in the near future.

Once these pitchers get healthy, an ideal scenario would be to have a rotation consisting of Verlander, Valdez, Blanco, Javier and Urquidy, with Hunter Brown moving to the bullpen or becoming the sixth starter if needed.

The Astros have the luxury of having a deep rotation once these players return to the team, which is necessary to turn this season around.

Consistent offense

One of the biggest challenges Houston has faced this year is scoring runs on a consistent basis.

For example, the Astros drove in the same amount of runs in their two outings against the Rockies over the weekend (20) as they did in their previous nine games against the Braves, Nationals, and Cubs combined.

On paper this offense shouldn’t be an issue, for Houston has the third-highest team batting average in the league behind only the Braves and Dodgers. And players such as Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez are playing up to their All-Star caliber levels.

Sure some guys like Alex Bregman, Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers have gotten off to slow starts, but those three can turn things around fast just as they have done in years past.

One reason for Houston’s offensive struggles has been Jose Abreu hitting a minuscule .099/.156/.113 thus far and will likely see less time on the field unless his numbers increase dramatically.

The 37-year-old is still owed roughly $16.25MM this season and $19.5MM in 2025, so cutting him and eating his salary doesn’t seem likely for the Astros at this time. But the team will certainly look at all of their options to get better offensive production at first base.

Jon Singleton has preformed better than Abreu this season, but most likely isn’t the long term answer either, considering he is batting only .238/.319/.286.

One solution the Astros will experiment with is calling up one of their top prospects, Joey Loperfido.

The 24-year-old had an impressive slash line of .276/.376/.684 in AAA through his first 117 plate appearances, and hit 13 homers as well.

In addition to his offense, Loperfido is a versatile athlete who can can play all three outfield positions, as well as second and first base.

It is likely the Astros will let the former Duke Blue Devil play some first in this upcoming series against the Guardians and hopefully give the team the offensive spark they need.

Other short-term options the Astros could try is to let either Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, or Yanier Diaz play some first base this season.

None of these players would be the everyday solution, but they have some experience at the position and the capability to play first base.

Needless to say, the Astros do have multiple players who can play first, and replace Abreu if he doesn’t start to turn things around soon

As long as Houston can get their starters back healthy and their offense can score runs consistently, there is reason to believe this team can get back to their winning ways and make yet another playoff run and beyond.

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Mariners defeat Astros, 3-2. Composite Getty Image.

Bryce Miller allowed two runs over six innings to pick up his first win since April 17, and the Seattle Mariners used a big first inning against Houston starter Framber Valdez to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Astros on Monday night.

Seattle scored three times in the first off Valdez and then leaned on its pitching to make the early lead stand up. Miller did his part and then turned it over to relievers Trent Thornton, Gabe Speier and Andrés Muñoz to close out the victory.

Muñoz got three outs for his 11th save.

Miller (4-5) had lost his last four decisions, including his past three starts. In his four previous May starts, Miller allowed 15 earned runs after yielding just eight runs over six starts during the first month of the season.

But he seemed to rediscover a bit of his dominant form from that first month, striking out six and walking a pair. Miller said part of the success was noticing batters being more aggressive on his pitches early in counts, forcing him to be better with his location.

“For me (it's) just trying to make sure I'm still getting ahead, but with certain hitters in the lineup not making a mistake just trying to get ahead,” Miller said. “Being aggressive on the corner early and then working off of that.”

Miller cruised through the first four innings and retired 12 straight after issuing a walk to Kyle Tucker, the second batter of the game. But he ran into trouble in the fifth when he gave up three straight singles, the last coming from José Abreu, which scored Jake Meyers. Victor Caratini’s sacrifice fly plated another run and after Jose Altuve doubled, Miller escaped the jam by getting a groundout from Tucker.

Miller again pitched out of trouble in the sixth, putting two runners on before Jon Singleton flied out to the warning track in right-center to end the threat.

Abreu was recalled from Triple-A Sugar Land ahead of Monday’s game and his single was his first big league hit since April 27. The 2020 AL MVP was batting .099 when he accepted an assignment to the minors on May 1.

All of Seattle’s offense came early. Meyers made a terrific sliding catch to rob Cal Raleigh of extra bases but it still resulted in a sacrifice fly. Ty France and Mitch Haniger followed with two-out RBI singles as Valdez faced eight batters in the first inning. He needed 43 pitches to get through the first two innings, but Seattle was unable to add on.

“We had all kinds of traffic and we had some good at-bats when we did have traffic out there. Unfortunately, sometimes the ball doesn't land on the grass like you want it to," Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Valdez (3-3) allowed just two baserunners over his final four innings on the mound and was able to get through six. He permitted six hits, struck out four and walked three.

“I thought it took him a little bit of time for his sinker to be down and to execute. He just wasn't executing his pitches like he wanted to," Houston manager Joe Espada said. "Then after that he settled in and he threw a heck of a game.”

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Hunter Brown (1-5, 7.06 ERA) allowed just two hits and two runs over six innings in his last start but took his fifth loss.

Mariners: RHP Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.31) lost his last time out, giving up two runs over five innings against the Yankees.

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