MOVES ARE NOT A NECESSITY, BUT COULD REALLY HELP THE TEAM PUSH FOR ANOTHER TITLE

Luhnow says Astros looking for a starter and a catcher; what about a reliever?

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Jeff Luhnow met the media Monday before the start of the Astros home game with the hard-charging Oakland A's and told everyone within earshot that the team would like to add a starting pitcher and a catcher before the trade deadline at the end of the month. With all the injuries to the starting pitchers that had given Luhnow and AJ Hinch the gluttony of riches a year ago of so many to pitchers to chose from, it has become evident that help is needed to fill out the rotation before they hit the stretch run towards the playoffs. Justin Verlander, Wade Miley, and Gerrit Cole are firmly entrenched at the top of the staff, but help is needed to replace the injured Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock, as well as the one-time starter Collin McHugh who is now back in the bullpen. The young arms on the farm system were given a chance, but they cannot be counted on for consistency and quality starts when the playoffs roll around and any slip up is magnified and could be the difference between advancing and being sent home. With all the big named starting pitchers on the market this year, there are plenty of options and varying contract terms out there to chose from as Luhnow attempts to make a deal.

Adding a catcher makes sense

After getting off to a red-hot start and close consideration for a spot on the All-Star team, catcher Robinson Chirinos has cooled off at the plate and needs to catch a few days off behind the plate to assure he is fresh for the playoffs. He has been better than expected and has the total trust and confidence of the pitching staff, but the team does not want him catching 3 games in a row and Max Stassi has not been able to step up and carry the torch when called on this season, battling through injuries and inconsistencies. Luhnow was hot after ex-Astro Martim Maldanado before the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Royals a few weeks back. That has left Luhnow and his staff to scour the market and see who else is out there, available and not too expensive to obtain. The goal is to save the top prospects and only consider a move for one of them if it is for a front line starter that has some level of remaining team control. Trading for a catcher would not seem to be an option for the likes of Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley or any other top prospect in the Houston system. Ideally, the team would prefer to part with a younger player down on the farm or a more experienced player with some major league experience that isn't in their plans for this season or in the short term.

You can't have too many arms 

The newest concern for the team seems to be in the bullpen where the arms are starting to run thin with injuries and extended use and AJ Hinch getting so concerned that he actually gave Ryan Pressly a full series off against the Rangers. Josh James was the latest casualty after he was taken out of the game Sunday with concerns of arm fatigue, velocity issues and a fear that there may be more to the diagnosis than just too many appearances recently. As long as Luhnow and his staff have time before the deadline, why not explore the options out there to add another arm to the mix in the bullpen? Hinch does not have the plethora of options he once had not too long ago when he walks to the mound to get one of his starters. Hector Rondon has really struggled of late and has been susceptible to the long ball while giving up 9 earned runs in his last 5.2 innings pitched. Chris Devinsky is a shell of his All-Star season of a few years ago and Will Harris has had a rough month of July after a steady start to the season. McHugh has been injured most of the year and Joe Smith just rejoined the team earlier this month after being out the entire year after Achilles surgery. The younger guys like James and Framber Valdez have been very inconsistent and not what the organization had hoped for heading into the season. I say all of this to say that Luhnow and his staff should leave no stone unturned and try to add another arm or two to the pen as long as they are out there and active in the trade market. The hope would be to find a seller that is looking to rebuild and would only require a low-level prospect or two to get a deal done. At the end of the day, a division title is not the end goal for this team and anything short of another World Series appearance would be viewed by most observers as a disappointment. Jeff Luhnow it's time for you to play the role of Monty Hall and get on the phone to find teams willing and able to trade. Let's make a deal, or two or maybe even three so that this team can finish what it started and write some more history for H-Town and Astros fans everywhere!

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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