Sports

Astros Facing Key Stretch at Difficult Moment

Ryan Pressly is the Astros' best reliever, but they need more than his arm to survive their upcoming schedule.
Ryan Pressly is the Astros' best reliever, but they need more than his arm to survive their upcoming schedule. Photo by Jack Gorman
After putting together a handful of solid series against AL west competitors and climbing back into the ranks of the leaders of the division, the Astros coughed up a sweep to the lowly Texas Rangers in Arlington over the weekend. Not only did it drop them back in the standings, but it put a spotlight on some rather significant issues the team must face as it heads into one of the most difficult stretches in the schedule.

Over the next three weeks, the Stros will face some of the best teams in both the National and American leagues. First up are a pair of series against the two best teams in the NL West, the World Champion Dodgers and the division-leading Padres. After that is a pair of series against the Red Sox with the Blue Jays sandwiched in between.

Fortunately, nine of the next 15 games are at home, but when those nine include L.A., San Diego and Boston, that's not exactly an exciting prospect, particularly when you just got swept by the Rangers.

At the moment, the Astros' biggest issues are in the bullpen. They are fifteenth in bullpen ERA in the majors, but that doesn't really describe the extent of the issues. Only Ryan Pressly has been very good as the team's closer, but finding a way to get from their starters to Pressly has been a problem. The team, no doubt, hoped to lean on Pedro Baez, who has been out with an injury with no timetable to return, and Joe Smith, whose drop in velocity has been a killer.


Some help might come in the form of returned starters Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi and, eventually, Jose Urquidy. All three could be back with the major league club over the next several weeks. That could push Christian Javier into the bullpen, but Luis Garcia will likely head for the minors given his lack of experience coming out of the 'pen. And no one is sure what the team can get from Josh James when he gets back.

We are still almost two months from the trade deadline, so any leverage reliever deals are still a ways off. GM James Click said recently that the team will work with what they currently have for now. It also makes sense given they are just barely below the luxury tax threshold, something they appear unwilling to eclipse.

And as good as they have been at the plate at times, they still have had their ups and downs. Most recently, that is Yordan Alvarez, who manager Dusty Baker described as being "in a funk" when he kept him out of the lineup Sunday. Carlos Correa, despite being an unrestricted free agent this offseason, has an OPS of under .750. He has been rather underwhelming offensively.

Still, this is a good team and has the potential to be much better if they can sort out the bullpen issues. We are still in May, after all, and panic should not be on anyone's radar at the moment. Still, with some of MLB's best on the schedule ahead, it's a bad time to struggle in any aspect of the game. The next three weeks will certainly test the Astros mettle and could give us all a better idea of just how resilient this team actually is.
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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