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Injury Woes Will Test Astros’ Position Depth

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Michael Brantley to a season-ending right shoulder surgery dealt a blow to the Astros for the remainder of the season and the upcoming postseason. While his power numbers have noticeably diminished in recent seasons, the veteran left fielder’s contact-oriented approach at the plate made him an ideal two-hole hitter in this lineup as someone who can keep the line moving. A valuable player to have in the same lineup as Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker.

By the time of Brantley’s surgery, James Click had already acquired Trey Mancini to further bolster the offense. Houston now appears intent on getting his bat in the lineup more often than originally planned, if the recent sample size has any meaning. Even though they are two different players, the addition of Mancini mitigates the loss of Brantley to some degree. Well, as long as Dusty Baker writes in the former Oriole into his batting order. Until told otherwise, Yuli Gurriel remains the starter at first base. Most of Mancini’s work will come in the form of left field or designated hitter to cover the position Alvarez isn’t handling that particular day.

On paper, the addition of Mancini and subtraction of Brantley is relatively straightforward. However, the latest groin injury for Aledmys Díaz further exacerbates the Astros’ current depth chart situation. For one, with Díaz no longer available for at least the short term, the Astros will have to rely upon Mauricio Dubón as their primary backup infielder with the recently called-up J.J. Matijevic as insurance at first base in the event Gurriel and Mancini are both out. The drop-off from Díaz (108 wRC+) to Dubón (69 wRC+) at the plate is definitely a downgrade. Also, Dubón had recently become the starting center fielder when Justin Verlander is on the mound, so Baker may or may not lose that luxury. Díaz has also played some in left field this season, so his absence hampers the positional flexibility he afforded to the roster. Let’s hope Alvarez’s reoccurring hand soreness remains a non-issue for as long as possible.

This latest injury to Díaz also ensures that the struggling Jake Meyers remains on the roster as the fourth outfielder as Chas McCormick should become the primary center fielder until further notice. But Baker’s decisions with the center field position have become increasingly unclear as the season has evolved. While Díaz isn’t exactly viewed as a core member of the roster, his contributions across multiple positions are difficult to replace when someone else is unavailable, especially with the trade deadline now passed as reinforcements are now harder to come by.

With a healthy division lead in the AL West, the Astros can afford to exercise caution with Díaz’s injury. It is more important for him to be ready, if possible, by October than anything else. Of course, there is the race with the Yankees to claim the best record in the AL and home field advantage through the ALDS and ALCS, but that ought to remain a secondary concern compared to entering the postseason as healthy as possible. Regardless, the next few weeks will at least test how deep the Astros are on the position player side. For their sake, let’s hope any loss from here on out is more of a short-term issue.