NEXT MAN UP

How latest injury update on Yordan Alvarez impacts Houston Astros moving forward

Yordan Alvarez Astros
Yordan Alvarez could miss a month. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
More bad news for the Astros, Yordan Alvarez

When it comes to injuries, the Houston Astros have already dealt with a boatload of them so far this season. Lance McCullers has yet to pitch for the team and suffered a setback that has him shutdown currently. Luis Garcia is out for the year (Tommy John) and Jose Urquidy is still working his way back from shoulder discomfort.

The offense was without Jose Altuve for a big chunk of the year, and Michael Brantley's shoulder has kept him from appearing so far this season. And somehow the Astros are sitting at 38-29, still in striking distance of first place in the division. However, things just got tougher for the 'Stros as Yordan Alvarez's oblique injury could keep him out for a month.

Houston GM Dana Brown joined the Astros flagship station on Wednesday and said it could be four weeks before Alvarez is ready to return to game action.

If Yordan is feeling better in three weeks, it could take him a week or so to ramp up and get back to the field. This is very disappointing news for the team, as the offense has been the weak link this season, despite so many injuries to the pitching staff.

The Astros are currently 18th in OPS (.717) and 1st in team ERA (3.28). Losing Yordan for a month is a big blow to this team. Hopefully the bats can continue to improve as the team awaits the return of Yordan and possibly, at some point, Michael Brantley.

The Astros need to make some hay in June against some lesser teams in the National League. They are currently playing the Nationals, with the Reds and Mets coming to Minute Maid next. All three teams are under .500.

The Astros finish off the month against the Dodgers (38-29) and the bottom dwelling Cardinals (27-41). Then the Astros head to Arlington for a critical four game series against the Texas Rangers. Houston is currently 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers.

If the Astros are unable to make up some ground on the Rangers over the next few weeks, a series loss could be a serious blow to the Astros' chances of winning the AL West.

Hopefully, with Altuve in the fold and Jose Abreu starting to come to life, the Astros can stay afloat as they wait on the return of slugger Yordan Alvarez.

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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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