In 2017 during the month of August, the Astros went 10-17. Their nearest division opponents gained four full games on them. The main issue for the squad in 2017 was pitching. Lance McCullers, Jr. was on the DL, Dallas Keuchel was not pitching well, the bullpen seemed gassed and they had yet to sign Justin Verlander.
We all know what happened from September on.
So far, this August, the Astros are 5-4 including a brutal division sweep at the hands of the Mariners this week that ended with an extra-innings heartbreaker on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. They have, so far, seen their next closest division opponent gain two games on them. This season, the problem is hitting due mainly to injury. McCullers is out again this year, but they do have Verlander, Keuchel (who is pitching well) along with Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole. But, they are missing Jose Altuve, George Springer and Brian McCann, and they just got Carlos Correa back.
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The big difference between 2017 and 2018 is the cushion they had in the division last year does not exist this season. When the 2017 August schedule began, the Astros led the AL West by 15 games. By the end of the month, that lead was eleven-and-a-half. This year, they began August with a five-game lead. That is now just two-and-a-half.
To make matters worse, they have fallen behind the Yankees for the third best record in the AL and they are only four games ahead of those same Mariners for the last Wild Card spot in the postseason. If they were to continue to play as poorly this August as they did last August, they could be in a virtual tie with two other teams come September with a chance of missing the postseason.
The good news is there is one other major difference between last year and this year. Last season, they needed to bring in Verlander to shore up a shaky rotation. This season, they just need to get healthy. If, by the end of the month, they have a lineup that looked like the one they began the year with, they should be fine. But, that is still an if.
Injuries are sports' greatest equalizer. The Astros, on paper, have as much or more talent than any team in baseball, but only if they actually play. Getting healthy could mean the difference between easily winning another division title and fighting just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Astros need is another August slump because they don't have a 15-game cushion to save them.