Photo Credit: Duane Burleson/Getty Images.
The Houston Astros are still the best team in the American League, at least by record. After Monday’s trade deadline, several AL teams bolstered their rosters with major pieces while the Astros were relatively quiet, only signing lefty Francisco Liriano to fortify their bullpen.
But despite continued dominance in the AL West while putting up MLB best numbers in hits and runs, there is reason to sweat in H-Town.
As rumors swirled throughout the Monday deadline with key pitching additions Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish netted by the Yankees and Dodgers, respectively, the Astros even passed on less-expensive options such as Ervin Santana or Lance Lynn. Many fans balked at the Astros inactivity, citing the persistent injuries of ace Dallas Keuchel, who has spent two months of 2017 on the DL and admitted to trying pitch through shoulder pain last year. Despite many cost-controlled young stars on the field and in the rotation, the Astros stayed put, refusing to take on any big contracts and leaving many scratching their heads.
Another concern for Houston is starter Lance McCullers, who was placed on the DL after posting a July ERA over 10. With Houston’s one-two punch looking shaky compared to duo of Luis Severino and now Sonny Gray in a potential matchup against the Yankees, the Astros cannot be viewed as outright favorites for the AL pennant.
Even Houston’s own players expressed their unease about a lack of movement by the Astros Front Office.
“I’m not going to lie,” Dallas Keuchel told media members before Tuesday’s game at Minute Made Park. “Disappointment is a little bit of an understatement. I feel like a bunch of teams really bolstered their rosters for the long haul and for a huge playoff push.”
Though Keuchel followed up these remarks saying that the current team has the tools to win a world series, his comments speak volumes about the frustration of a team that seemed destined for a World Series run only a few months ago. Though the team likely will head into October with home field advantage in the AL, if they find themselves staring down the daunting Indian or Yankee bullpens in the ALCS, fans may look back on the July 31st deadline as a missed opportunity.
After much was made about the “Zach Britton sweepstakes” leading up to the deadline, the Orioles ended up holding onto their closer, despite a reported deal that was in place between Baltimore and Houston. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow described a deal that was 90 percent of the way there, but was reportedly vetoed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos.
Regardless of the details of this prospective deal, Houston left empty-handed without any major chip to solidify their pen, which currently ranks 10th in the AL with a 4.18 ERA. Though Liriano will help some, the Astros appear disinterested in the MLB’s current postseason trend of stockpiling stud flamethrowers to throw multiple innings in relief.
This bullpen makeup should be familiar to Houston, as they faced it in the form of the 2015 Kansas City Royals, who out-pitched the Astros in the ALDS on the way to a World Series title.
Two years later, the Astros offense will need to stay piping hot and their young rotation must get healthy for them to make a deep playoff run, or Luhnow may regret his deadline dormancy.