The All-Star break couldn’t have come soon enough for the Houston Astros, who finished the first half of the season on a six-game losing streak, losing their divisional lead in the American League West in the process.
The Astros are in the midst of their second significant stretch of poor play this season with eight loses in their last 10 games. Fortunately, veteran help is on the way for a young team in need of stabilized play in all areas of the game.
Normally, the lack of depth in the starting rotation is the rhetoric associated with the Astros when they lose a few ball games in a row. However, much like their first losing streak of seven games at the beginning of June, it was the offense that failed them as they scuffled to the midway point.
In their final six games before the break, the Astros averaged just 1.17 runs per game. Similarly, other than a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Astros averaged 1.67 runs per game in their earlier slide. For a team that relies heavily on the long ball, it was no secret going into the season that poor stretches of offense would show up from time to time. The silver lining may be that following their seven straight losses in June, the Astros turned around their fortune and won six of their next seven games.
It is no coincidence that losing George Springer to a wrist fracture at the start of July coincides with the offense dropping off in production. The importance of his ever-improving skills at the plate, gold glove defense in right field as well as the spark he provides in the clubhouse can’t be quantified.
Staying afloat in the race for the playoffs until Springer returns will be tough, but the Astros will soon be getting back a veteran that should help add consistency to the lineup.
Jed Lowrie has been out of the lineup since tearing a ligament in his right thumb sliding into home during a game in late April against the San Diego Padres. According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle in his article yesterday, Lowrie recently took batting practice against live pitching as he nears a return.
"“Shortstop Jed Lowrie, meanwhile, was at the park after spending the break at the team’s complex in Florida, where he swung a bat against live overhand pitching in batting practice for the first time. That’s a big step on his way back from right thumb surgery, but he’s not imminently to go on a rehab assignment.”"
At the time of his injury, Lowrie had rekindled the magic he saw the last time he put on an Astros uniform. As one of the more consistent threats in the lineup, he hit .300 with four home runs, four doubles, 10 RBIs with a .999 OPS in 60 at-bats before his injury.
If Lowrie can play anywhere close to that level upon his return to the Astros’ lineup in the near future, it will be a big lift for a team that needs offensive consistency in the worst way. With holes in the lineup at both corner infield spots, Lowrie’s bat coupled with his veteran leadership would be a significant upgrade almost immediately for a team looking to get back on track.
The offense isn’t the only area of the Astros’ roster that will be getting a veteran back to help with the instability.
The starting rotation has been a revolving door at the back end, but with Scott Feldman ready to make a return back from a knee injury, the team will get a fresh pitcher to eat up innings while they monitor the innings of rookies Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez.
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The Astros have reportedly been on the market for a top-end arm with the trade deadline approaching. Until then, Feldman — who is scheduled to start Saturday against the Texas Rangers — will be a welcomed addition as he takes some of the pressure off of ace Dallas Kuechel. Even though his numbers weren’t great when he was injured (4.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP), Feldman’s veteran presence is exactly what the team needs every fifth day to help give the rotation and familiar identity.
With the second half getting underway this weekend, it will be important for the Astros to get off to a good start to build the momentum for the stretch run. Lowrie and Feldman making their way back to significant contributions on the field will be a boost for the team as they look to get back their lead in the division.
With such a young team, the next couple of weeks will be crucial in the Astros’ hunt for the playoffs.
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