Just as important as the available trade chips are the variables internal to the Astros. Of course the goal is to win the World Series, but before that, one needs to make the playoffs and preferably avoid the Wild Card game. What are the most important variables that will determine how the Astros act in the next month?
- The most important variable is Brad Peacock’s health. As he proved in 2017, and showed in glimpses this year, the Pea can be feared. How sore is the shoulder? Can Peacock be the guy who gave up 2 ER or less in all but one of his six May starts, or is he going to be the Peacock who couldn’t get off the ground in June? Is seventeen days enough rest?
- Who is Jose Urquidy? Let’s find out Sunday, when he’s in line to start the last game of the season. Can Urquidy be a reliable 5th starter? Does he look like a change-of-pace righty, featuring a nasty change-up, who can keep the Astros in games?
- The answers to both of those questions is unlikely to be a resounding yes, but if one of those is true, then I think the Astros can relax into targeting one guy who can potentially slot as a 3rd starter who will be in the playoff rotation (here’s looking at you, Marcus Stroman). But if Urquidy gets lit up on Sunday, and Peacock doesn’t look like he can bounce back from his ailment, the Astros will be in close to panic mode. Luhnow, panic? Yes! And I’d say they’re already in panic mode based on the number of guys added to the 40-man this season.
- Minor league pitching depth. Here are the guys who were thought to provide SP pitching depth for the 2019 season: Rodgers, Armenteros, Martin, Whitley, Valdez, Bukauskas, Abreu Ivey. Noticing a trend here? Martin is hurt, Whitley is ??, Ivey teased us and then disappeared, and Bukauskas has been a major disappointment. Valdez isn’t going to suddenly become a control pitcher, although he’ll be given another chance. As much as we can root for Brady Rodgers and Rogelio, the Astros clearly don’t have much confidence that they can start at the MLB level. So once again, if Urquidy bombs on Sunday and Peacock is sore, Luhnow has a massive question mark on July 14 & 15th, after JV, Cole, and Miley get their turns.
- The schedule and the AL West race. After looking at the Rangers appearing closer than they seem in the rear-view mirror, the lead is back to 8 and 8.5 over Oakland and Texas. But Houston plays those teams in 10 of 14 games after the break, when they have ZERO days off from July 11-24. The team can’t have Peacock and Urquidy getting shelled and sent to the showers on consecutive days, in consecutive terms (I wouldn’t be shocked if they put Miley between them in the rotation coming out of the break). One or two bad series, and Texas and/or Oakland are back within 4 games. Then again, the Astros could have a 12 game lead going into August. But the lack of consistent SP makes it harder to prevent sustained losing streaks.
To conclude, the Astros farm system has not provided the kind of pitching depth needed. Internal veteran options (Peacock, McHugh) have had injuries that have prevented them from performing at levels seen in the past. The team was probably going to acquire a SP for the playoffs no matter what. Circumstances (most notably, the number of teams in both leagues in sight of the WC, and thus the ratio of buyers to sellers) have made it more likely that the Astros will have to overpay for that arm. Let’s hope they don’t have to overpay for two SP arms. Sometimes that means you part with a Josh Hader.