June 13, 2024

As we reach the 50-game mark of the Major League Baseball season, I find myself reminiscing about the shortened COVID season in 2020. At 22-28, this is the worst start for the Houston Astros since that season, which ended with them finishing at 29-31 and just barely making the postseason as the final playoff spot.

If you remember, after barely qualifying for an expanded playoff, the Astros went on a run that led them to the ALCS, where they took the Tampa Bay Rays to a seventh game. Why does that matter now? It’s a reminder that even good teams can play mediocre baseball for stretches of 50 or 60 games.

Currently, at 22-28, this Astros team doesn’t look good by their record. However, they’ve been improving, going 7-3 in their most recent homestand. They now have a big opportunity to make up ground in the AL West over the next week. Starting tonight, they have three games in Oakland against an A’s team they just swept, followed by four games in Seattle against the Mariners, who are five games ahead of them in the standings.

Astros' Jose Abreu getting sent to A-ball after tumultuous start to season  | Fox News

With an off day to reflect, let’s look at the most pressing questions facing the Houston Astros in the coming days and weeks:

**1. How will the Jose Abreu situation ultimately resolve?**
For the past month, first baseman Jose Abreu has been at the Astros rookie developmental camp in West Palm Beach, trying to fix his swing. It’s unusual for a team to send an aging player to a developmental camp, and for the player to agree. As of Thursday, Abreu had “checked all the boxes” for a return to playing, starting with a couple of games in Sugar Land at the AAA level. Inevitably, Abreu will return to the Astros. The team should have a very short leash with him. If he continues to struggle in his first few games back in Houston, the Astros should consider cutting their losses and moving on, instead of wasting valuable at-bats on a player who might be past his prime.

**2. What will the starting rotation look like come September?**
Despite the injuries and inconsistencies, the Astros are on the verge of having a surplus of major league starting pitchers. Manager Joe Espada will have to make some tough decisions to narrow down what could be a list of nine pitchers to five, maybe six, starters. Here’s the current situation:

(Additional detailed analysis on the pitching rotation would follow here, continuing the exploration of the roster and strategy moving forward.)

At the 50-game mark of the Major League Baseball season, the Houston Astros find themselves with a 22-28 record, the same poor start they had in the shortened 2020 COVID season. Despite finishing that season at 29-31, the Astros barely made the postseason and went on a remarkable run to the ALCS, taking the Tampa Bay Rays to a seventh game. This serves as a reminder that even good teams can have stretches of mediocre play over 50 or 60 games.

Currently, the Astros are not performing well by their win-loss record. However, they’ve improved recently, going 7-3 in their last homestand. They now have a significant opportunity to close the gap in the AL West over the next week, starting with three games in Oakland against an A’s team they just swept, followed by four games in Seattle against the Mariners, who are five games ahead of them in the standings.

With an off day to reflect, let’s consider the most pressing questions facing the Houston Astros in the upcoming days and weeks:

**How does the Jose Abreu situation ultimately resolve itself?**
For the past month, first baseman Jose Abreu has been at the Astros rookie developmental camp in West Palm Beach, trying to fix his swing. It’s unusual for a team to send an aging player to a developmental camp, and for the player to agree to it. As of Thursday, Abreu had “checked all the boxes” for a return, starting with a few games in Sugar Land at the AAA level. Inevitably, Abreu will return to the Astros. The team should have a very short leash with him. If he continues to struggle in his first few games back, the Astros should consider cutting their losses and moving on, instead of wasting valuable at-bats on a player who might be past his prime.

**What will the starting rotation look like come September?**
Despite injuries and inconsistencies, the Astros are close to having a surplus of major league starting pitchers. Manager Joe Espada will have to make tough decisions to narrow down a list of nine pitchers to five, maybe six, starters. Here’s the current situation:

Houston Astros - YouTube

– **Immune to demotion:** Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco
– **Auditioning to keep their role:** Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown
– **Likely fall guy:** Spencer Arrighetti
– **Returning wild cards:** Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers

If Blanco continues his current performance, he deserves a secure spot in the rotation. Javier will likely get every chance to keep his spot, and Hunter Brown has been improving. Of the injured, Urquidy is the first expected to return and will need to perform well to stay ahead of Garcia. Lance McCullers, given his salary and experience, will likely get immediate opportunities upon returning. This is a crucial period for Espada.

**Can Kyle Tucker win the AL MVP on a bad team?**
Several outlets have Tucker as their American League MVP at the season’s quarter mark. At the very least, he is among the top three candidates. Tucker’s impressive performance, including leading the AL in home runs, is enhancing his future contract value. However, the team’s poor performance could hinder his MVP chances. If the voting happened today, Tucker’s chances would be negatively affected by the Astros’ record, possibly making Juan Soto of the Yankees the likely winner. The team needs to be in playoff contention for Tucker to receive high-level MVP consideration.

**Will Alex Bregman turn things around, and if not, what does free agency look like?**
Alex Bregman, like Tucker, is also aiming for a big-money contract extension. However, aside from a brief flurry of good performance earlier this month, Bregman has been one of the worst-hitting third basemen in baseball. Despite his elite defense, his offensive struggles have been a liability, especially since manager Joe Espada places him in the cleanup spot between Yordan Alvarez and Jeremy Peña. If Bregman doesn’t improve, he might be looking at a short-term, prove-it contract extension in free agency, possibly even from the Astros.

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