June 24, 2024

Despite their impressive offensive statistics, the Houston Astros (4-10) find themselves at the bottom of the American League West standings. Despite ranking in the top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and being tied for third in home runs after 14 games of the 2024 MLB season, they lag behind even the Oakland Athletics, who have managed to win five games before April 12th.

Astros, Joe Espada

Houston has already suffered two sweeps this season, which is causing a significant blow to team morale. While the Astros have overcome slow starts in the past, such as their unexpected journey to the World Series in the COVID-shortened 2020 season when they had a 29-31 record, enduring four significant losses within a week is undoubtedly disheartening.

The recent games at Kauffman Stadium against the Kansas City Royals have been particularly demoralizing. In Thursday’s game, starting pitcher Hunter Brown was hammered by the Royals, giving up nine runs on 11 hits in the first inning alone. Bobby Witt Jr. hit two home runs and drove in five RBIs, while Vinnie Pasquantino continued his strong performance, and Brady Singer showcased the Royals’ formidable rotation, leading to a decisive 13-3 victory for Kansas City.

This latest defeat adds to Houston’s current slump, raising concerns among fans. However, first-year manager Joe Espada remains optimistic, believing that the Astros’ track record as a perennial powerhouse warrants trust in their ability to bounce back.

“We’ve faced challenges early on, but this team has overcome adversity before,” he stated, according to ESPN (originally from the Associated Press). “These setbacks will only make us stronger. It’s tough to accept those losses, but I have confidence in the group in that locker room. We’ll find a way to turn things around. Sometimes, things just don’t go your way, but that’s part of the game.”

There’s no need to panic at Minute Maid Park just yet. Despite the infamous sign-stealing scandal, the Houston Astros have been the benchmark in professional baseball for the past seven years. Despite facing criticism and facing the usual challenges that most MLB teams encounter, the Astros have persevered. In 2023, they were just one home victory away from reaching their third consecutive World Series. The Texas Rangers’ success in that season hinted at the possibility of a new era in the AL.

The tough start to the 2024 season only reinforces this idea. However, it’s premature to write off this team before there’s concrete evidence of a decline. Right now, the most glaring issue appears to be a lack of reliable pitching.

Fortunately, this could be addressed with better luck in avoiding injuries. The Astros’ bullpen has been inconsistent, and they’ve struggled to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Injuries to key starters have only compounded their problems.

While players like Yordan Alvarez (.327 batting average, four home runs) and Jose Altuve (.370, three homers) are capable of turning things around, the pitching concerns may persist throughout the long season. Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez have already faced injury setbacks, and navigating these obstacles could be a season-long challenge for manager Joe Espada.

Despite the strong performances from Ronel Blanco (including a no-hitter) and Cristian Javier, the bullpen needs to step up to support the offense. Otherwise, the Astros risk exhausting themselves mentally by constantly trying to overcome early deficits.

Espada remains optimistic that his team’s experience and talent will shine through soon. A successful series against the defending champion Rangers could be the catalyst for the Astros to regain their momentum.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) talks with third baseman Alex Bregman (2) before the game against the New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

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