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The Game Plan for August and September: Stay Healthy for October

MLB: Houston Astros at Cleveland Guardians Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Based on their current winning percentage of .636, the Astros are on pace to win 103 games this season. If this rate continues, they will tie the 2018 squad for the second-most wins in a single season in franchise history, trailing only the 107 wins established in 2019. Considering the roster upheaval in recent years, it would be an impressive accomplishment and testament to their player development staff.

But the overall win total in 2022 doesn’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. While obtaining home-field advantage is the primary objective at this juncture of the season, especially with the AL-leading Yankees regressing recently, the Astros are now caught in a balancing act between prioritizing wins and managing injuries for August and September.

Needless to say, it is a plan which requires delicate execution. The Astros, like most clubs, could ill afford to lose someone of vast importance, such as Yordan Alvarez or Justin Verlander, for an extended stretch. They’re already down a critical contributor in Michael Brantley, which has weakened the lineup to some degree. The addition of Trey Mancini helps offset this loss, but Brantley’s contact-oriented approach at the plate is missed. But even with Lance McCullers Jr. and Brantley absent, the Astros have been relatively fortunate on the injury front as they have accumulated the sixth-fewest days (640) on the IL entering Monday compared to the majority of their peers.

Every postseason contender has at least a handful of players they can’t afford to lose for October. For the Astros, this group includes at least Yordan Alvarez, Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, and Kyle Tucker. After all, Alvarez’s right hand has caused him to miss games. Verlander is in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Tucker has been in a swoon for a couple of weeks. You can probably increase that list to include a few more players, but you get the point. This is why Dusty Baker must manage his roster’s respective workloads. Yes, there will be some days when we will see multiple regulars sitting out simultaneously, as we did on Sunday when both Altuve and Tucker were held out of the starting lineup. It will sometimes be aggravating, especially in the instances when we see Mauricio Dubón starting in center field over Chas McCormick. But It is far more vital for his players to be ready in October than needlessly exerting more effort than necessary during the next two months.

Thankfully, with postseason odds at 100 percent (99.7 percent to win the division), Houston has the luxury to plan for October more than most of their peers. While home-field advantage is an important goal worth striving for to finish the season, it also isn’t worth any unnecessary strain beyond reasonable expectations. But, first, clinch the division. From there, the rest of the plan will become more evident, including how to handle workloads in preparation for October.