Keys to the Second Half for the Houston Astros

The reigning world champs were plagued by injuries to start the year but the Houston Astros are still in prime position for a playoff push.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 11: Yordan Alvarez #44 of the Houston Astros celebrates after hitting a walk-off home run against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning in game one of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 11, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The reigning world champs struggled in the first half. They were plagued by injuries to start the year with Jose Altuve going down first in the World Baseball Classic. The injuries kept coming for Houston, Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia are out for the year, while Jose Urquidy, Yordan Alvarez, and Michael Brantley have all been sidelined at some point this season.

Despite the injuries the Astros find themselves two games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the AL West. Houston is nine games above .500 and they went 6-4 over their last 10 games, including a series win over the Rangers in Arlington.

The Astros currently hold a Wild-Card spot, but their eyes are set on taking the division for the third-straight year. A division they have actually won in five of the last six season, with the lone exception being the shortened 2020 season.

The baseball world may have briefly forgot how dominant this team can be at full strength, but now they will have a chance to remind them in the second half. With the right moves at the deadline and key players returning, don’t be surprised when Houston really begins to hit their stride.

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The Wild West

Besides the Oakland A’s all the remaining teams within the division are fighting for a playoff spot. The Rangers have exceeded expectations and fielded six All-Stars in the Midsummer Classic. The Mariners caught fire towards the end of the first half, winning seven of their last 10 games including a road series win over the Astros. The Angels have the two best players in the world in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout but finished 1-9 to end the first half and they sit one game below .500.

The AL West has been surprisingly competitive this season. Houston opened as a -200 favorite to win the division before the year, but are now +105 according to Bet MGM. The Astros have faired well against the division in the first half, going 17-10 against the AL West and have an opportunity to separate themselves as they look to get healthy.

Who’s Returning?

Michael Brantley has been shut down again from baseball activities and it’s starting to look like he won’t play this season. There’s no timetable on his return, and as the trade deadline approaches, it seems like Houston might look to find his replacement for their playoff push.

Yordan Alvarez and Jose Urquidy are expected to return after the All-Star break following their rehab assignment with Triple-A Sugar Land. Jose Altuve is still a week behind them dealing with an oblique sprain, hoping to not go on the IL for the second time this season.

The return of Alvarez will provide a huge boost for this Astros lineup. He’s been out for over a month but was named an All-Star this year and was having a career season before going down.

He was slashing .277/.388/.589, with 17 home runs and 56 RBI’s with a .978 OPS. “Air Yordan” was the World Series hero for Houston with his go-ahead and series-winning home run off Jose Alvarado last year. Alvarez is one of the deadliest hitters in the game and is a home run threat every time he comes to the plate.

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Jose Urquidy will be a nice addition to the pitching staff, it’s not clear yet what his role will be, but he has playoff experience and was a part of the rotation before going down. Urquidy made six starts for the Astros, he was 2-2 with a 5.20 ERA but hasn’t pitched since April. However, he had a 3.94 ERA last season and Houston hopes he can return to form.

What’s Next for Houston?

The Astros need a strong second half and keeping Alvarez and Altuve healthy must be a priority. They have only appeared in the lineup together for 13 games this year and it’s pretty impressive when you realize Houston hasn’t played their best lineup for most of the first half.

This offense is lethal when healthy and the Astros need to be able to run out an everyday lineup with their best players to create some distance within the division.

Houston is expected to be buyers come the trade deadline. Astros general manager Dana Brown recently came out this past week mentioning the need for starting pitching.

“With the pitchers that we’ve had going down, it could put us in a situation where we come up short or we don’t get to that next round of the playoffs,” said Brown. “A good arm would be really, really helpful. The problem is, there are not many good arms out there.”

Adding a proven arm down the stretch would only benefit the team but the asking price might be higher than the teams’ liking. Names that come to mind are Lucas Giolitto, Jack Flaherty, Lance Lynn, and potentially Shane Bieber for the right price.

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Houston has seen multiple starters go down with injuries and have relied heavily on their young talent, with four rookie starting pitchers logging 35 starts in the team’s 91 games this season. Regardless, the Astros still ranked fifth in the Major Leagues in starters’ ERA.

Prior to mentioning the need for starting pitchers the Astros frequently stressed the need for a left-handed bat. Adding a middle of the order outfielder could still be a possibility but some players have stepped up with expanded playing time.

Yanier Diaz and Corey Julks have impressed since joining the team full-time but their roles might change with Alvarez and Altuve rejoining the lineup. Diaz has primarily been the DH in Alvarez’s absence but it will be surprising to see if Diaz gets more opportunities behind the plate.

He has excelled in his first full big league season batting .267/.277/.492 with 10 home runs and 21 RBI’s with a .769 OPS. Julks doesn’t have the same type of power as Diaz. but he’s played multiple outfield spots and is batting .282/.325/.408 with six home runs and 29 RBI’s while stealing 15 bases.

We have yet to see this team at full strength and that should excite Astros’ fans everywhere.

Even with the missing pieces and injuries, Houston is in prime position for another playoff run. Many role players have stepped up and been given the opportunity to succeed.

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That experience will pay off in the long-run for the Astros and once this team gets healthy, they will put the rest of the MLB on notice.