As we approach the midpoint of the major league baseball season (yes, already), it should be noted that the Astros are still very good at baseball. Even with injuries, the team has maintained a stranglehold on the AL West and remains one of the best teams in the league.
But it's only the first half. A lot can happen as we get closer to October. Before looking into the future, let's take a look and where the team is right now.
The AL is deep, the AL West is not.
As of writing this, the Texas Rangers would make the playoffs in a wild card spot, but they remain more than eight games back of the Astros. And while the A's and Angels are nipping at the heels of the Rangers, no one believes the AL West is a juggernaut or will have a major impact on the second half of the season. Still, the wild card race is going to be a dandy. The AL East will be a dog fight with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox all battling for first. The Indians are certainly going to make a push in the Central. And the division winners, which will mostly likely include the Astros, will be very, very tough. The playoffs will not be a cake walk by any stretch this season even if the division is wrapped up by August.
Michael Brantley is everything he was advertised to be. Could Yourdan Alvarez be too?
Brantley was said to be a "professional hitter." Talk about accurate. He is second in the AL in batting average at .321 with 11 homers and 21 doubles. He is as measured a hitter at the dish you'll ever see and he represents one of the real stabilizing agents in the middle of the lineup that has been a bit patchwork over the last month. Then there is the rookie phenom Yourdan Alvarez. After four home runs in his first six games, he's been a little quiet, but there is no questioning his power. If he can give the Astros even a percentage of that power down the stretch, they will be the most dangerous offensive team in baseball.
The pitching has been great...but it could be better.
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There have been hiccups in the starting lineup and in the bullpen, but this team continues to have one of the better pitching staffs in baseball. That is thanks in large part to starters Justin Verlander and Garret Cole along with relievers Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna (despite a couple recent struggles). But there is always room for improvement. No doubt if Jeff Lunhow can locate a quality third starter at the trade deadline, he's going to do it. The team is loaded with quality prospects and adding arm depth for the starters and maybe even the bullpen would make this team even tougher than it already is.
Injuries can derail any team's season.
Yes, the Astros have been great over the last month despite missing George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Aledmys Diaz, Max Stassi and Colin McHugh. But that can't go on forever. We began to see some cracks during this series against the Reds, the first sweep since last season. Altuve should be back sooner than later as will Stassi and McHugh. Springer isn't far behind, but it will be the All-Star break before Correa and Diaz are available. Caution is prudent with bigger prizes on the line down the road, but health is the great equalizer in sports. Getting healthy and staying that way will be the difference between another potential World Series run and an early playoff exit.