Astros on brink of falling out of race

By Matt Verderame

The Houston Astros were absolutely miserable in April, then came alive over the following three months to vault themselves into the postseason discussion.

Unfortunately, things have not been going well for Houston in recent days. Only 3-7 over their last 10 contests, the Astros have fallen into third place of the American League West and now trail the first-place Texas Rangers by a robust nine games going into Aug. 11. Furthermore, Houston is sitting 3.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox for the second and final wild card spot in the junior circuit.

If Houston, 58-55, doesn’t snap out of its funk quickly, all could be lost for a team many believed was a lock for the postseason and perhaps even the favorite to reach the World Series this season.

The Astros have quietly been the best team in the AL when talking about run prevention. Houston has only allowed 456 runs this year, the best in the league. Considering Dallas Keuchel, who won the AL Cy Young Award last year, has posted a 4.56 ERA and a 7-11 record, that’s nothing short of shocking. Houston has gotten a terrific year out of veteran Doug Fister, who barely tops 80 MPH with his fastball. Fister has 10 wins and a 3.47 ERA, leading the club in both categories.

Oddly enough, the rest of the rotation has been poor. Collin McHugh has a 7-9 record with a 4.69 ERA while Mike Fiers has recorded just 10 quality starts in 21 outings, posting a 4.46 ERA. It has been the bullpen which continuously bails the Astros out of jams, with Pat Neshek, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson all compiling ERAs below 3.10.

With all that in mind, it is easy to see why the Astros can turn the season around and reach the playoffs. In a league where there are very few good rotations, Houston has the horses provided they step up. Should that happen, the team with the best ERA in the AL would be even more dangerous.

There is certainly no cause for concern offensively, either. Jose Altuve continues to be the best second baseman in the sport, hitting an absurd .361. Factor in the 22 home runs by George Springer and the 74 RBI of shortstop Carlos Correa, and Houston is going to score some runs. This is a group that has seven players who have already hit double-digit home runs to go with a 82 stolen bases.

Everybody in the American League has to be rooting for the Astros to stay home come October. The rotation leaves plenty to be desired but the bullpen is nails and the lineup is nasty.

Houston has time to break out and recapture its magic from last year, but the hourglass is starting to fill up on the wrong side.