No matter how good you are in sports, injuries are the ultimate equalizer. For the first time this season, the Astros are being equalized. While Carlos Correa and Brian McCann remain on the DL, now MVP Jose Altuve has joined them with soreness in his right knee. The hope is the move is only precautionary and Altuve is eligible to return in a week, but that part of the Astros season isn't trending in the right direction.
Unfortunately, neither is their play on the field.
Since sweeping both the Rangers and White Sox in early July, the Astros were 6-8 coming into Sunday against the Rangers, who had already taken two of the three-game series at Minute Maid over the weekend. On Sunday, they completed the series sweep with a 4-3 win over the 'Stros, the fourth straight loss for the home team, their longest losing streak of the season.
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It's easy to blame injuries for the struggles. Without two of their best offensive weapons and infield defenders, the team has struggled. And that doesn't even count McCann, who was a consistent lefty bat in the lineup.
But, the bullpen has struggled as well, giving up far too many big innings. A team that was (and, despite the problems, remains) one of the best overall pitching staffs in baseball has been looking mighty mediocre of late. Even the newest Astro, Ryan Pressly, who the team acquired from Minnesota this week, gave up a solo homer in his first appearance with his new team.
Of course, we aren't even in August yet, but if the Astros were going to pick a time to be bitten by the injury bug and go into a prolonged slump, this wouldn't be when you would want to pencil that in on the schedule. The Astros face Seattle and Oakland, the teams directly behind them in the division standings, in 16 of their next 28 games and only 11 of their games between now and the end of August are in Houston. It could be the toughest stretch of the season and they aren't exactly going into it at their best or healthiest.
Now, Correa could do a rehab stint in the minors by the end of the week and Altuve could be back within a week. And the Astros are right to be cautious with two of their best players as we get closer to October. But, unlike last year when they had a double-digits lead in the AL West before the All-Star break, this year they will have to win to make the playoffs. They remain one of the best teams in baseball overall and few believe they are suddenly going to go on a long losing streak to jeopardize the postseason. But, if there were ever a time to be concerned, this would be it.