These major season milestones will test Houston Astros resolve and leadership

The Astros have some injuries to overcome. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The All-Star break is approaching at a good time for the Astros. That may seem an odd assertion for a team that has won 13 of its last 16 games, is 58-30 overall and could well be 61-30 after a three game home weekend series with the awful A’s. However, the injury bug has repeatedly bitten. Yordan Alvarez is out with a sore right hand. Michael Brantley continues to be sidelined by a bad shoulder. And then Thursday night the first pitch of the game drilled Jose Altuve in the left shin and forced him from the game. The Astros have enjoyed a ridiculously easy schedule the last two-plus months. They will reach the break having faced an opponent with a losing record in 50 of their last 59 games. The schedule stiffens after the break, so a few days off to get some key bodies healthier is well-timed. Because of the lockout-delayed start of the regular season, the Astros’ break is shortened a day with a doubleheader against the Yankees slotted in Thursday. Then it’s the long flight to Seattle for three against the rampaging Mariners, winners of 11 in a row.

The Astros enter the weekend having closed within three and a half games of the Yanks for the best record in the American League. Home field advantage guarantees nothing (see World Series 2019 and 2021) but the Astros sure would be better off having it than not. The Yankees have finally hit their first lackluster stretch of the season, dropping four of their last five games. After taking the first two games of a series at Fenway Park the Yankees blew leads in losing the next two, then lost two out of three at home versus the lowly Reds. Panic time in the Bronx! While the Astros should be slapping around the A’s this weekend, the Yankees see the Red Sox again.

The plan for Verlander

Some interesting and smart maneuvering of the Astros’ starting rotation. Currently with six healthy starters, Dusty Baker and the rest of the braintrust made a tweak for the weekend. Jose Urquidy opens the Oakland series Friday night with Verlander held back until Saturday. Multiple layers to this. Verlander has been stupendously good and is a finely-tuned pitching machine. Nevertheless, he is 39 years old and off Tommy John surgery. Backing JV down from a 200 inning season pace, muy inteligente. Verlander’s last start came on seven days rest, his outing Saturday will be on eight days rest. Going Saturday means Verlander will have two days off before being part of his ninth American League All-Star team. He should not pitch in the game. Heck, ideally he'd take part in the pregame pomp and circumstance (if he desires) then pass on the game itself and fly back to Houston. Verlander would have his preferred four days rest from Saturday to Thursday, perfect for starting one of the games against the Yankees, one would think the 5:40 start (rather than the 12:10). How about Cristian Javier to start the just after nooner? He did most of the work in the Astros’ combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. Whether Framber Valdez gets to throw an inning in the All-Star Game, let him fly from Los Angeles to Seattle ahead of starting against the Mariners either Friday or Saturday.

If the Astros sweep the pair from the Yankees they become the clear favorite to punk New York for the number one seed. While the Astros’ after the All-Star break schedule is tougher than the before, it’s still easier than what the Yankees face. The AL West is grossly inferior to the East, meaning the Yankees intradivisional slate is much harder.

The trade deadline is less than three weeks away (August 2). Just as the Astros are a playoff lock but still should be in the market for an upgrade over Martin Maldonado or Yuli Gurriel, the Yankees are a lock but could use a starting pitcher and left-handed hitting outfielder. Two months ago I suggested Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras and Nationals’ first baseman Josh Bell as guys who should be objects of Astros’ desire. Still holds. The sleeper acquisition would be an outfield bat, particularly if Brantley’s shoulder is a serious problem. At this point neither Chas McCormick nor Jake Meyers has the look of a plus centerfield stick. Jose Siri is not a legit Major League hitter. If there is no landable centerfielder but a quality rightfielder is obtainable, shifting Kyle Tucker to center is viable if not optimal for the Astros’ defense. Remember, in 2018 Jeff Luhnow came close to dealing for Bryce Harper. Could/would James Click try to sell Jim Crane on a similarly OMG pursuit? The Astros don’t have enough to bid seriously on Juan Soto, should the Nationals entertain offers. Unless you’d be okay trading Javier and/or Luis Garcia, top pitching prospect Hunter Brown, and much more.

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The Houston Texans approach to the offseason has caused quite a bit of controversy among Texans fans and media. Some really like what the team is doing in free agency, while others are underwhelmed.

But the argument that keeps getting thrown around is whether the Texans are ready to win this season, or if the team will have to suffer through another disappointing season. Most would agree the Texans roster has a number of holes, but how will that roster look after the NFL Draft and hopefully a new franchise QB is taking snaps for the team?

The great thing about the NFL is how fast teams can turn things around and start winning. When we looked at the teams coming off a bad season and drafting around the Texans in 2021, many of them showed a huge improvement the following season.

The Lions were 3-13-1 in 2021, last year? 9-8. The Jaguars went 3-14 in 2021. Last year they won the AFC South and notched a playoff win over the Chargers. Look at the New York Giants, they went 4-13 in 2021. They improved to 9-7-1 and also won a playoff game just one year later. And don't get us started on the Jets. They went 4-13 in 2021, improved to 7-10 with bad QB play, and now Aaron Rodgers wants to play there.

The point being, most of these teams hired new coaches in the last couple of years, added some talent through the draft and free agency and started winning. Why are Texans fans and media so convinced they're in for another season of losing? Why can't the Texans be the team that turns things around and competes for a division title? Especially if they land a franchise QB as expected.

The AFC South isn't a very tough division. In fact, the Texans beat the Jags, Colts, and Titans just this year. Shouldn't we expect them to take a step forward with better players and DeMeco Ryans leading the way?

Be sure to check out the video above as we break it all down!

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