The losing streak should be a blip on the radar

Recent slump aside, things are looking up for the Astros

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

While last week's seven-game losing streak was tough to endure, there are plenty of reasons to believe that it is not something the Astros will have to re-live the rest of this season. Not only is the team getting healthier, but the poor performance of last week was a complete abnormality and not the symptom of a failing team.

Sure, Houston does benefit from playing in one of the more winnable divisions, but even if they didn't, I wouldn't be hitting the panic button on Houston after last week's slump. Here are a few reasons why:

Altuve looks to be 100% 

One of the biggest takeaways from yesterday's game that ended Houston's losing streak was that Jose Altuve looked like himself. It started with him hitting the leadoff home run to start the game, showing that he's still got the power in his swing. Then, in his next at-bat, he could have settled for a single but instead was aggressive on the basepaths to leg out a double, showing that he isn't scared to run at full speed.

Another positive sign was that Altuve was able to string together four straight games with a hit by getting one in each game in New York, showing that he is seeing the ball well again. A dangerous, healthy Altuve could prove pivotal for the Astros, who will need that to keep the top of their order as one of the toughest for an opposing pitcher to face.

Springer is coming back, Correa to follow 

The Astros will get another key piece of their lineup back this week in George Springer. Springer has been out of Houston's lineup since May 24th when he suffered a hamstring strain. He began a rehab assignment in Corpus Christi this past weekend where he looked great, hitting a couple of home runs in his first game on his way to a .400 average over his three rehab games.

That will leave one last major piece of the batting order missing: Carlos Correa. Correa likely won't go on a rehab assignment or rejoin the team until after the All-Star break, but it shouldn't be too long before Houston has their entire lineup intact and back in action. He was flirting with a .300 average before being sidelined, currently with a .295 average including his eleven home runs so far in 2019. Getting him back in the lineup somewhere around Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez will further bolster this potent lineup.

Arguably even more importantly, Correa's return will provide a significant boost on defense. Having Carlos back at shortstop will allow Alex Bregman to move back to his normal position of third base, and move Yuli Gurriel back to first base. That alone will solve some of the defensive issues that have fallen on the Astros in recent games due to players having to move around and play some somewhat unfamiliar positions.

Better pitching to come 

Another proponent of last week's struggles was some poor pitching for Houston, something they haven't had to deal with that much in 2019. First, it's important to note that some of the pitching issues were not long-standing issues. Roberto Osuna's struggles that resulted in the loss in Cincinnati on Wednesday were anything from normal; it was only Osuna's third blown save and first loss of the season. He should be given the benefit of the doubt to get back on track as the closer the next time the Astros need him in a high-leverage save situation.

Another low point of the week was seeing Ryan Pressly allow the go-ahead runs to the Yankees on Saturday. That too was abnormal, as Pressly just recently ended one of the most impressive streaks of scoreless innings ever. The eighth and ninth innings for the Astros should go back to being locked down the next opportunity they get to test Pressly and Osuna.

Another benefit to the pitching staff will be the return of Collin McHugh. McHugh, like George Springer, is nearing the end of his rehab assignment with the Corpus Christi Hooks. While it's unclear where McHugh will fit in the pitching makeup for Houston upon his return, he should provide a lift overall as it will give the Astros another arm to get into the fold.

In addition to all of this, the Astros are still the beneficiaries of what should be considered one of the best 1-2 punches in an MLB rotation in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Let's not forget about Alvarez

That brings us to one of the best things that have resulted from recent injuries: Yordan Alvarez. Even when some of Houston's typically hot bats looked cold in this past week, Alvarez continued to show his potential, hitting more home runs and racking up more RBIs in his short twelve-game season so far.

Alvarez now has seven home runs in his twelve games to go along with 16 RBIs. He has been just as dominant at the major-league level as he was in the minors, and it creates a great problem for Houston once they have Springer and Correa back: how do they configure this lineup? No matter what order they end up in, it's no question that the rest of 2019 and in the playoffs, the Astros will be a tough task for any opposing pitcher.

So again, while the losing streak was a bleak spot on this season so far, there are just too many positives about this team to believe that there will be any stretch of games that go as poorly as those did again this year. The potential for this team has been, and remains, that of a potential World Series champion.

Houston's young players are impressing in September

Young talent continues to shine for the Astros

Rich Schultz / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the Astros took advantage of the current rules allowing teams in September to expand their major-league roster by bringing up some key players from their AAA affiliate, the Round Rock Express. Bringing them up was beneficial for both the Astros and the players, as it gave the team a chance to rest key players down the stretch, fill some holes due to injury, and provide these young prospects a chance to show what level of performance they are capable of producing in the big leagues.

While Houston had a disappointing stretch of games this past week by dropping three-straight to division-rivals Oakland, this month has otherwise been very successful for the Astros. They continue to inch closer to their magic number to clinch the division, as well as staying in step with the Yankees for the best AL and overall record to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. The success in September, in part, has been a result of these young stars being available and ready to contribute when called on.

Toro and Straw have taken advantage of their opportunities

Let's first take a look at some of the guys who are not as high-profile as the other two we'll get to later. Abraham Toro joined the team in late August to fill an infield spot while both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz missed time with injury. His most exciting moment so far was when he delivered the only runs in a tightly contested game in Toronto against the Blue Jays, a two-run home run in the top of the ninth which would ultimately be the difference in a no-hitter for Justin Verlander.

While that was one of his most significant offensive highlights, he has also been solid on defense, filling in at third base while Alex Bregman has covered shortstop for a recovering Carlos Correa. While he likely doesn't make the postseason roster, Toro has shown that should the Astros need a third baseman, whether due to injury or possibly in the years to come with players moving on to other clubs, that he could be their guy.

Another contributor this month has been Myles Straw. While I originally had him on the outside looking in with my playoff roster predictions, the frequency at which Houston has used him as a pinch-runner has shown that they consider him an asset for his speed on the basepaths. Straw alone has scored seven of Houston's 90 runs this month, many of which coming after he was put in as a runner late in a game. That's not to say that's his only strength; he's 4-for-9 at the plate this month and has shown strength on defense as well. Considering the bullpen is starting to get healthy, he could very well find himself on the Astros' bench in the playoffs.

Kyle Tucker has finally broken through 


Many, including myself, were highly anticipating Kyle Tucker's call up in 2018. It, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype; as Tucker would end up going 9-for-64 and a .141 average, no home runs, and just 4 RBIs in his 28 games played in the second half of the 2018 season.

This year is an entirely different story, though, as not only did he have another terrific year in AAA to warrant another chance on the major-league roster, he has finally translated his minor-league success to the big leagues. He already has more hits (13) in his thirteen games in September as he did in his 28-game 2018 debut.

Not only has he been able to notch more hits, but he has also recorded his first and second career home runs along with six other RBIs to double his total from last season (eight versus four). Whether it was some bad luck or improved mechanics, the 2019 version of Kyle Tucker is vastly superior to what we saw in 2018.

Yordan Alvarez is simply unreal


While the players mentioned above are all great in their own right, there is still one young player that has stolen the spotlight on Houston's roster. That is Yordan Alvarez. We're running out of superlatives and records for him to exceed. Had Alvarez been with the Astros from the start of the season, we may not only be talking about the best rookie season ever but one of the best overall seasons by a player, period.

Sure, roughly half of Alvarez's dominance this year came against minor-league talent, but he has been just as dominant in the majors since his debut on June 9th. When you combine his overall statistics between the minors and majors this year, you see an incredible .333 average, 48 home runs, and 146 RBIs. For perspective, although he has spent some time away with injury, the absolute best player in the game, Mike Trout, currently sits with a .291 average, 45 home runs, and 104 RBIs.

He has already locked himself in as the sure American League Rookie of the Year, but now the question is: what can he do with a full season in the major leagues? I am looking forward to seeing how he steps up to the big moments he could be put in during the playoffs this year. Can he deliver these same numbers against the absolute best in the game? I think so, but we will have to wait until October to know for sure.

While the Astros certainly have one of the best set of veterans in the game, the last few months have been a chance to see what may be on the horizon for some of Houston's young talent that will likely be contributing towards more success for their team for years to come.

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