Sports

Astros Week: Next Men Up as Rotation Players Go Down

Mauricio Dubon (right) had a big day Sunday with a homer while starting at short.
Mauricio Dubon (right) had a big day Sunday with a homer while starting at short. Photo by Jack Gorman
It was bound to happen. Injuries get to everyone eventually and the Astros were due. So far, nothing has been major and there is expectation of a full complement of players by the end of the month. The only problem is the Astros are about to face a gauntlet against both New York teams over the next 10 days. In the finale against the White Sox, the team got a much needed boost from the bottom of their lineup and both Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel are showing some signs of life.

But, for the next week-plus, they are going to need more than a couple of breakout performances by players who shouldn't be in the lineup. Let's discuss.

The IL grows long.

Jeremy Peña, Yordan Alvarez, Aledmys Diaz, Jake Odorizzi, Parker Mushinski, Blake Taylor, Jake Meyers, Taylor Jones, Lance McCullers. That's a pretty long list of names, some of which figure to play an outsized role in the Astros success this season. All are currently injured. Diaz is perhaps the least concerning with a shoulder injury that is not expected to see him miss more than a couple games. Alvarez has some sort of hand injury — the Astros are so cagey with injury reports, who knows what that means? — that is "not structural. He is considered day-to-day. Peña has a thumb injury that will keep him out at least a couple weeks. Odorizzi should be back around the same time. No timetable has been set for relievers Mushinski and Taylor, and it is expected Meyers and Jones could be back by the first of next month. McCullers is progressing, but still no definitive timetable.

That's a LOT of injures at a rather inopportune time, but sports is a war of attrition. Best to get the injuries out of the way now.

Big day for a pair of Astros newbies (and a young fan).

Mauricio Dubon, who the Astros acquired last month to help shore up their depth, was one of a pair of fill-ins on Sunday to help seal a win and a series victory over the White Sox. Dubon and J.J. Matijevic both homered to give the team a 4-3 win. Dubon isn't known for his power, but it came at a good time while he was manning shortstop for the injured Peña and Diaz. But it was Matijevic who had the game of his young career.

His home run was the first hit of his career and it came on Father's Day no less. Even better, a young fan benefitted from the homer by negotiating for quite a bit of loot in return for the ball. He landed tickets, a Jose Altuve signed baseball and a signed jersey from Justin Verlander that said, "Nice catch!" Sounds like an even trade.

click to enlarge Yuli Gurriel's bat has been better, but it will need to be great over the next two weeks. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Yuli Gurriel's bat has been better, but it will need to be great over the next two weeks.
Photo by Jack Gorman
The toughest stretch of the season coming?

After a stretch of creampuffs, the Astros face the bullies of the major leagues in the Mets and Yankees over the next 10 days including six road games. It's a strange stretch that includes make up games that were supposed to be played early in the season but were disrupted by the lockout. The Mets and Yankees are the two best teams in baseball. The Yankees, in particular, are on pace to win 120 games and boast a ridiculously powerful offense.

The 'Stros have to go through the gauntlet with some of their key players injured and coming off a stretch that no one would exactly call impressive. Fortunately, it's June, not September, so there will be less pressure. And guys like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman love the bright lights of New York. But, don't be surprised if it is an ugly couple weeks.

Could the next 10 days determine what happens at the trade deadline?

It's reasonable to think that however the Astros perform between now and the end of the month will directly influence what the ball club considers when it comes to trades. If Bregman and Yuli Gurriel continue to struggle, it seems a foregone conclusion the team will look to add some depth to their lineup. If the bullpen implodes or underperforms, maybe the look to pitching.

Because they are facing two of the best teams in baseball, win or lose, it is a good time to evaluate where players are individually. Manager Dusty Baker is fond of being patient and there is good reason to follow that slow and steady guidance, but opportunities to improve will be plentiful if the Astros are buyers, but what will they buy? The next two weeks could help GM James Click figure that out.

Series Previews:

Not really much to say here except strap in and hold on. The heated rivalry between the Astros and Yankees continues with four games at Yankee Stadium immediately following a pair against the Mets and Minute Maid Park. After the four-game set in the Bronx, they travel across town for two against the Mets before returning home for a final game against the Yankees. Weird, right?
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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