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The Astros Are Trending In The Wrong Direction

Concerned? Yes, you should be. Time to panic? Not yet.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I originally intended to follow up on my Cristian Javier post from last Friday and have the second part posted to the site by today. Unfortunately, I was a bit too optimistic about the timing as it also coincided with Father’s Day weekend and my time wasn’t necessarily mine own to spend with various family commitments. Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. Just ask the Astros right now.

But with any free time that I occasionally had at my disposal, I became increasingly distracted by how poorly the weekend series against the Reds unfolded. I mean, I had a feeling that the game on Sunday wasn’t likely to end well when this play below unfolded.

That play, at least to me, was a microcosm of the Astros’ current situation. Against the Nationals and Reds, Houston was 2-4, allowing 30 runs while scoring only 21. Half of the games featured a lineup that scored three runs or less, with two of those games having one run scored apiece. Even when positive results happen, it doesn’t take much to derail the entire team, as it did in the later innings on Father’s Day. When the pitching is good, the bats disappear. When the offense is actually viable, the pitching staff has developed a nasty habit of imploding, at least recently. With this dive in June (7-10), it isn’t a surprise that the club’s postseason odds have also trended downwards. It is also discouraging that the Rangers have also experienced a skid of their own and the Astros didn’t capitalize.

To be fair, the Astros’ pitching staff has held up incredibly well for a club relying upon Brandon Bielak, J.P. France, and Ronel Blanco for multiple turns through the rotation. The bullpen is among the best at preventing runs. But it was apparent from the onset of the season that the lineup was increasingly dependent on Yordan Alvarez. With their best hitter on the IL for at least the next few weeks, it’ll remain a struggle to score, at least consistently. Sure, they’ll have the occasional five-to-eight run outburst, but Houston will likely follow up with a stretch of low-scoring games as they did against the Nationals and Reds. With Alvarez, this lineup was already average, at best. Remove all of Alvarez’s contributions this season, there is obviously even less to like.

2023 Numbers With Alvarez: .245/.315/.400, 81 HR, 321 R, 99 wRC+

2023 Numbers Without Alvarez: .243/.308/.383, 64 HR, 280 R, 92 wRC+

The next couple of weeks will likely determine the club’s direction for the remainder of the season, at least for how Dana Brown will approach the trade deadline. A four-game set against the Rangers in Arlington as the calendar transitions from June to July looms large. So does an upcoming home series against the Mets this week with both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the mound promptly followed by a seven-game set on the road against the Cardinals and Dodgers later this month.

If the next four series do not break well for Houston, it is a conversation worth having to discuss what is the best course of action for the franchise. No, I am talking about selling off established major league players. Not at all. That is a panic move and this roster has too much talent to warrant such drastic measures. These aren’t the 2010 or 2011 teams when the organizational decay was quite apparent. Rather, I do think it would be prudent to at least preserve the farm system as much as possible with an eye on 2024 and beyond. The odds of the Astros acquiring controllable talent that could markedly improve the club’s fortunes this season are fairly low, especially for a still-recovering farm system. Like it or not, the organization does not have the same depth present atop of the farm system that was present from 2017-22. A lot of that depth was even arguably eroded by the time James Click was hired and he was only in the process of replenishing that depth when he left the organization. Brown is continuing that work, but it will take some time.

At this point in time, my concern level about the success of the 2023 season is reasonably high. Markedly higher than it was a month ago. Losing a hitter of Alvarez’s quality will do that. In the meantime, I think it would behoove Dusty Baker to maximize Yainer Díaz to see if his bat can at least provide a momentary jolt to the lineup on a consistent basis. Thankfully, the pitching staff, despite the injuries, has been nothing short of impressive, still possessing the lowest ERA (3.35) and the fourth-highest WAR (9.4). Yes, the Astros are trending in the wrong direction. However, there is still time to right the ship, especially if the lineup’s performance hopefully starts to trend in the right direction. Hope is ultimately not a strategy, yet it might be the only realistic option for improvement in the next few weeks.