Injuries, Demotions No Problem for Juggernaut Astros

George Springer is leading a resurgent Astros offense.
George Springer is leading a resurgent Astros offense. Photo by Jack Gorman
In the past week, Jose Altuve has been sent to the injured list with a strained hamstring and starting pitcher Colin McHugh was demoted to the bullpen after several rough outings. Under normal circumstances, losing a your perennial all star second baseman to injury and a starting pitcher to performance issues would be a major cause for concern.

But, this is no normal baseball team.

Early in the Houston Astros 2019 season, with the offense approaching the league leading numbers of the year they won the title and pitching stats looking not markedly dissimilar to 2018's remarkable season on the mound, these losses are the equivalent of a shoulder shrug for this ball club.

They are 8-1 in their last nine games including a weekend sweep of the Rangers, who had owned the series early in the year. During that stretch, they scored double digit runs four times and had 9 runs in another outing. Their run differential is an eye-popping plus-41. Take out the one loss (a 12-2 blowout at the hands of the Royals) and they are a ridiculous plus-51 in those eight wins — they are a plus-69 on the season overall, which leads the majors.

We could also list all the mind boggling numbers for individual players like George Springer leading the AL in home runs (15) and RBI (37) or Michael Brantley coming in third in batting average (.331) or Gerrit Cole leading the majors in strikeouts (86). But, the truth is the quality of their depth is what is most incredible.

This is a team that won the World Series in 2017 and lost to the eventual World Series winner last year. In 2017, they were the best offensive team in baseball with a patchwork pitching staff and bullpen. Last season, they struggled on offense with injuries to Carlos Correa and Altuve while dominating on the mound both in the rotation and in the pen.

In 2019, it appears they may have put the two together.

Their rotation of Justin Verlander, Cole, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock has been outstanding and their bullpen, particularly Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, who are essentially six outs waiting to happen in the eighth and ninth innings, are as good as it gets.

Their lineup has a leadoff man leading the AL in home runs and a third spot in Alex Bregman who is third in the AL in homers. Then there is Brantley, who is the absolute perfect fit as a consistent lefty among a load of right handed hitters followed by Correa, who is having a resurgent season. And Yuli Gurriel has finally found his stroke as well.

Even Josh Reddick, who is bound to come back to earth at some point, and Robinson Chirinos bolster a back end of the line up that can hurt you any time on any day.

It would be nice to have a healthy Altuve back in the lineup, but his replacement, Aledmys Diaz, is doing exactly what they hoped when they essentially replaced Marwin Gonzales with him over the winter. He's filling in admirably and even showing a little pop at the plate on occasion.

If the Stros can't figure out how to tweak McHugh's pitching and get him back into the groove he had to start the season, there is no reason to think he wouldn't be great in the bullpen as a long reliever, much the way he was in 2018. Given the quality of depth in their prospects, it doesn't feel like a reach to consider someone like Corbin Martin (who, incidentally, looked fantastic in his first major league start on Sunday) for one of the five starting jobs.

Given their dominance already and a somewhat softer schedule over the next couple weeks, the Astros are feeling a lot like the 2017 team, but more balance and with a better pitching staff. It's still early in the season, but they are a juggernaut at the moment, whoever is in (or not in) the lineup.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke