Sports

Five Things That Have Gone Totally Awry for the Astros This Season

This is not all on Jose Abreu, but what has happened to him this year says something about the Astros.
Photo by Jack Gorman
This is not all on Jose Abreu, but what has happened to him this year says something about the Astros.
The Astros are 6-31 against teams over .500 this season. Take that number in for a moment. It is an astounding record considering we are talking about a team that has gone to the ALCS seven straight years including 2023. But, here we are as the end of May rolls around, and this is not a good baseball team. Period.

So, what has gone wrong exactly? You can point to individual players certainly (and we will), and injuries have played their part, but it takes a lot of things going sideways for a team that was THIS close to the World Series last season to fall so far so fast.

Pitching injuries and overall mediocre play.

One of the Astros great strengths last year was incredible stability in their rotation after losing Lance McCullers, Jr. and Luis Garcia, and solid work from their bullpen. In 2023, the Astros only needed eight total starting pitchers for the entire season. That number is absolutely insane. This year, they have used over 20, more starters than any team in baseball, and we are just a third of the way through the season. What they have gotten from starters Framber Valdez, Hunter Brown and Cristian Javier (before his latest injury) has been mediocre at best. And while the bullpen has started to stabilize and its ERA is back in line with where it should be, it was a disaster in April, especially considering what was expected from Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly and Josh Hader at the back end of the pen.

First inning blowups and late inning meltdowns.

Speaking of pitching struggles, those have led to some truly bizarre numbers; Astros allow more runs in the first inning than any team in baseball (.93). The closest other teams are the Rockies (.87) and A's (.73). No other team allows more than .7 runs in the first inning. Playing catch up when your offense is sketchy at best (more on that shortly) is not a way to win ballgames. To make matters worse, they often fall apart late as well. The Astros have blown 10 saves this year with a save percentage just north of 40. It's understandable when you consider they are 27th in WHIP. They allow a lot of base runners and in late innings, that is a recipe for disaster.

Hitting feast or famine.

In the last seven games, all of the Astros runs have come in a single inning. They would match the MLB record if they did it for an eighth time in Seattle. It's yet another astonishing stat in a year filled with them so far. The Astros rank 11th in runs per game, first in hits, seventh in homers, first in batting average and fifth in on-base percentage. You might think that makes them a good offensive team. You'd be wrong. That's because they rank 25th in sacrifices, 25th in hitting into double plays, 26th in players left on base, 22nd in runners left in scoring position and 25th in team hits for extra bases. In other words, they are terrible in clutch situations. This is a team that has, historically, relied on their clutch play in late innings and close ballgames. They clearly cannot rely on that this year.

The demise of Jose Abreu and what it says about the bigger picture.

It's a little unfair to lump all the problems of this team on Jose Abreu and we aren't going to do that, but his struggles have underscored a deeper problem within the organization. The Astros were wholly unprepared for Abreu's struggles, this year and last. Advanced data might have given them a clue, but the team has increasingly gone away from analytics in favor of "baseball guys" and "looking at the back of the baseball card." Abreu has always hit, so he will continue to hit. Never mind his bat speed and problems with barreling the ball that have been increasing with his age. Not only has it stubbornly kept them going back to Abreu, but it has, for some weird reason, seen them not develop any real alternatives. Joey Loperfido is not a viable option at first, at least not this year, but they don't have anyone else in the minors ready to fill that spot (don't ask us to elaborate on what they do at third if Alex Bregman leaves in free agency). It's concerning for the team now, but it feels even more foreboding for the future of the franchise.

Total lack of consistency.

The Astros have run 47 different lineups onto the field this season. They have moved guys from the top to the middle, sometimes even closer to the bottom. They've experimented in center field despite initially saying the job belonged to Jake Meyers, who now seems to be solidified in that spot. They kept Alex Bregma in the cleanup spot and Abreu in the five hole far too long considering their struggles at the plate, while leaving Jeremy Peña too far down the lineup card. Even Mauricio Dubon, who admittedly has been crowded by the situation in center field, has played too little considering his consistency at the plate. This doesn't all fall on manager Joe Espada, but it does make one wonder if there had been more concrete decision making along with more accountability earlier in the year if they couldn't have eked out a few more wins instead of watching guys flail away.