For the third consecutive season, the Astros didn’t exactly play up to their own lofty expectations in April (W-L: 15-13, +22 run differential). Technically, Opening Day was on March 30, so two of those games didn’t fall within April, but we can ignore that distinction for these purposes. Considering they’re only 2 1⁄2 games behind the Rangers for the AL West lead, a slow start won’t torpedo their chances at another division title.
However, their performance through their first 28 games feels more like an accomplishment than it normally would have in recent seasons. For example, without Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, the offense has become increasingly dependent on Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, who have driven in roughly 37% of the team’s 128 total runs. Remove the duo from the equation and the offense has looked increasingly suspect. Alex Bregman had a recent string of success following a slow start in the Opening Series, but another recent skid has pushed his OPS below .700. José Abreu — .235/.267/.270 in 120 plate appearances — looks increasingly lost at the plate with little power, with hitting coach Alex Cintrón believing it is a mechanical issue. Jeremy Peña continues to provide bursts of power, although his inability to get on base consistently limits his value as a hitter. In the outfield, Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick, and Corey Julks provide some pop, while Mauricio Dubón has at least provided league-average hitting while Altuve is out.
Alas, the lineup overall is slightly below league average on the season, as evidenced by the club’s 97 wRC+. Some of these struggles were expected as Altuve and Brantley are arguably Houston’s two best hitters at generating contact. Any significant absence will be felt when we’re discussing hitters of that caliber. However, as I mentioned earlier, Dubón has held his own as the regular second baseman with the outfield situation not as dire.
Abreu, on the other hand, has been the disappointment of the young season, to put it mildly. While some pointed to Abreu’s history in April as a reason not to worry a couple of weeks ago, I think most have looked past that narrative as the veteran first baseman’s struggles appear more than another slow start. Most of all, the sudden evaporation of power and the lack of hard hits have decimated Abreu’s offensive production.
Fortunately for the Astros, even with Abreu’s struggles looming large, there are ways to envision the lineup improving in May. For one, Brantley is currently on assignment in Sugar Land and could appear in the major league lineup sooner rather than later. Altuve’s progress from a fractured right thumb sounds optimistic with the slight hope he could return to action by the end of the month. The return of at least one of those hitters in the coming weeks will help bolster the lineup. McCormick is also due back soon as well, which will further strengthen the hitters that Dusty Baker has available. Lastly, the hope is for Abreu to eventually figure out what has caused his sudden decline at the plate.