There are 71 games remaining in the Astros' season, starting tonight when they host the Texas Rangers. The Astros are in the midst of a six-game losing streak that has seen the team fall into second place in the AL West after leading the division for most of the season.
Yet, if the season ended today, the Astros would be in the playoffs as a wild card. It's been awhile since the team has been within spitting distance of a playoff spot, so it should probably be expected that most decisions from the front office for the foreseeable future will be centered on making the playoffs.
With that in mind, here are the storylines fans should be watching for the rest of the season, or at least until the Texans start camp and everything non-football-related is ignored.
WHAT ABOUT FIRST BASE?
It's no secret that first base is a black hole of suckitude for the Astros. Chris Carter has manned the spot for most of the season, and has been okay defensively. But his slash line of .185/.300/.380 is something that would have seen most players either benched or sent to the minors. True, he has 15 homers and 41 RBI, but he's struck out 115 times in 340 plate appearances. Even for Carter, known for striking out a lot, those numbers are beyond pathetic.
But Carter continues to play because there's the vague hope he'll hit again. There's also the issue that Jon Singleton continues to fail miserably when it comes to hitting major league pitching. That Marwin Gonzalez has gotten some play at first base shows how desperate the Astros are getting.
The current thinking seems to be that the team will try shortstop Jed Lowrie at first when he comes off of the disabled list. This makes sense in that a) Lowrie can hit, b) that Carlos Correa guy has pretty much locked down the shortstop job for the next decade or two, and c) have you seen Carter and Singleton at the plate?
WHO NEEDS A STARTER?
The pitching, both starting and relief, has vastly improved over years past. Dallas Keuchel's a legit Cy Young candidate and just started the All Stat Game. Lance McCullers has been good. Fans no longer have to duck for cover when the team goes to the bullpen.
But Collin McHugh has been inconsistent and gives up just over a hit an inning. And the team's had problems filling the other rotation. Scott Feldman's supposed to return from a knee injury this weekend, which should help. And there's talk of the Astros being active on the trade market in search of a proven starter such as Cole Hamels, Scott Kazmir or Johnny Cueto, though David Price as an Astro might have to wait until next season.
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The non-waiver trade deadline's just two weeks away. So if the Astros are going to make a big move, then it just might do so soon.
HACK HACK HACK
And let’s not forget, there’s that whole hacking scandal. The St. Louis Cardinals supposedly got rid of the person responsible, but the FBI’s still investigating. The excuse still seems to be along the lines that the Cardinals were just investigating whether Jeff Luhnow or another member of the Astros front office stole the proprietary information of the Cardinals in order to build the Astros database. The problem is that doesn’t explain that employee of the Cardinals breaking into the Astros database, and it also doesn’t excuse the leaking of Astros information to the public.
It could be an exciting 71 games for Astros fans. Even if the team fades away and misses out on the playoffs, it just needs to be remembered that this year's team wasn't built for the playoffs. It was supposed to be better, but the playoffs were still a year or two away. But this year's team is providing a glimpse of what the future can be, and that future can be very fun. And it’s been a long, long time since Astros fans had fun watching baseball.