Once-Streaking Astros Hampered by Impotent Offense

Lance McCullers was rounding into the team's ace until elbow soreness sent him to the disabled list.
Lance McCullers was rounding into the team's ace until elbow soreness sent him to the disabled list.

About ten days ago, things were looking pretty damn sweet for the Houston Astros. They'd just polished off the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep, had won four in a row overall and sat at ten games over .500 (54-44).

More important, they had narrowed the Texas Rangers' lead in the American League West to just 2.5 games, coming nearly all the way back from being down 11 games in the standings just 28 days before, an amazing stretch of the calendar in which the Astros didn't lose ground in the standings one time.

Jose Altuve was playing like an MVP, and Lance McCullers looked like a candidate to overtake Dallas Keuchel as staff ace, and Keuchel had actually been pitching well over the previous month or so! On top of that, top prospect Alex Bregman was set to make his Major League debut. Good times!

That was ten days ago... and unfortunately, after Wednesday, it feels like it was ten months ago. 

First, on Wednesday afternoon, the Astros placed McCullers on the 15-day disabled list after he was forced to leave his start on Tuesday prematurely with elbow pain. The team is calling it a sprained elbow, and McCullers will not touch a baseball until he tells the team that he is ready to do so. At 22 years old, McCullers is viewed as a critical piece of the nucleus, current and future, hence the caution.

So, of course, the only appropriate way to follow up that bit of crappy news was for the Astros to go out and do what they've been doing the past week and a half — swing the bats with all the strength of Monty Burns on painkillers. For the fourth straight game, the Astros finished nine innings with one run or less (On Monday they scored two, but it took 14 innings), as they lost to the Blue Jays, 3-1. 

If you're looking for the Achilles heel last night, look no further than spots five through nine in the batting order — they went a combined 1 for 18. Further, how about some of these numbers for players not named Springer, Correa or Altuve:

Colby Rasmus, since July 1 ...., 4-67 (.060)
Preston Tucker, since July 22.. 4-29 (.138)
Jason Castro, since July 25 ...... 2-25 (.080)
Carlos Gomez, since July 1 ......15-78 (.192)
Evan Gattis, since July 1 ........... 14-71 (.211)
Alex Bregman, since July 25 .... 1-32 (.031)

That's hideous. 

So the Astros have now gone 2-7, sliding back down to five games above .500 (56-51), and falling 5.5 games back of the Rangers. About the only thing they can count on? Jose Altuve.  Bovada has the All-Star second baseman listed as a 3/2 favorite to win the AL MVP.

On this team right now, though, greatness is lonely. 

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.    

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