Houston Astros: Four reasons not to sleep on this team

The injury-riddled Houston Astros have endured early-season disappointment but their best baseball lies ahead. Here are four reasons as to why.

Houston Astros fans feel the pain. Following Justin Verlander’s placement on the injured list, and the team losing a two-game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Minute Maid Park, it may feel like a championship is completely off the table. However, the Astros are sitting pretty. Here are four reasons why.

1) The emergence of Cristian Javier

In Justin Verlander’s absence, the Houston Astros called upon Cristian Javier to start Wednesday night against a talented Dodgers lineup—a nail-biter that the Astros lost in 13 innings. The right-handed pitcher threw 5.2 innings in his second major league appearance, giving up only two hits and one run while striking out eight.

The Astros’ 2019 Minor League Pitcher of the Year surrendered his only run on a 1-0 count to Corey Seager, who hammered a middle-in fastball about nine rows deep into the right-field stands. Minus the minor blemish, Javier looked in command locating his mid-90s fastball, though his velocity tapered off as his pitch count increased. Nevertheless, pitchers affected by the delayed 2020 season may benefit from more regular-season starts to build stamina.

2) A resurgent Carlos Correa

On the young season, Carlos Correa has notched nine hits in 22 at-bats, good for a .409 average, and a sizzling .500 on-base percentage. In addition to only four strikeouts in 26 plate appearances, one-third of the 6-4 shortstop’s hits through five games are of the extra-base variety. Could Correa be fully healthy?

3) Help is on the way

With Rookie of the Year slugging sensation, Yordan Álvarez, and starting pitcher, José Urquidy, preparing for a major league return in beautiful Corpus Christi, the Astros have reinforcements on the way. Everyone knows Álvarez might be an incredibly special power hitter with a chance to accomplish very rare feats.

However, when Álvarez returns for his sophomore season, the Astros will receive not only a home run threat but an offensive presence that will force opposing outfielders to play further back closer to the fence, thereby decreasing the chances baserunners will get thrown out when Álvarez puts the ball in play.

And with Urquidy, though the right-hander has only thrown 41 innings in the majors, he featured a perfect fielding percentage in 2019, and showed incredible poise in the playoffs, allowing just one earned run in ten innings of work.

4) Trial by fire management decisions

What a lot of baseball fans might not realize is that the absence of Yordan Álvarez has actually benefited the Astros by allowing Dusty Baker to evaluate outfielders competing for playing time.

Taking full advantage, Baker has also demonstrated an open-mindedness to allowing more unestablished pitchers an opportunity to demonstrate their capability to retire major league hitters in high leverage situations.

The Astros’ skipper ever so sagely is thrusting these fringe roster players into sink-or-swim

pitching appearances against the likes of Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, and Joc Pederson. Think of it this way—with a healthy roster, perhaps a Blake Taylor doesn’t receive a roster spot. And if Taylor didn’t make the active roster, how would Baker know that the left-handed pitcher’s stuff is good enough to get out quality big league batters going forward?

With five pitchers on the injured list, Baker is enabling an opportunity for the relievers in the bullpen to reestablish their roles. With so many pitchers recuperating, Baker appears open to revisiting the pecking order for high leverage situations, except for the late-inning mainstays of Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna.

Another way to look at the Astros’ situation is that if Alvarez, Urquidy, and Verlander were all on the active roster, some of these less established players who are receiving opportunities would not be getting critical looks not only by Dusty Baker but other teams looking for help before this season’s modified trade deadline.

Next: Astros: It's time for McCullers to rise to the occasion

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And in the event that the Astros need leverage to secure a critical midseason trade, the Astros’ front office has so far appeared aggressively committed to showcasing fringe players’ abilities to the rest of the league in game situations far superior to Spring Training appearances. So though the Astros possess a .500 record six games into the season, they’re right on track to assemble a formidable final roster for an inevitable playoff berth.

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