Back in May, when the Houston Astros were tallying casualties and bringing in help, we looked at the lineup they had scrapped together and figured there was no reason for panic. They would be OK.
They have been. But now, with healing time winding up, the Astros will have to do some re-figuring as regulars are eased back into the lineup.
Since late May, when the injuries began to pile up, the Astros have taken series against the Red Sox, Cubs, A’s, Mariners and Orioles. They’ve posted a 16-5 record in the last 21 and have been as successful on the road as at home.
They haven’t scored that many more runs than opponents. They got clobbered 14-1 by the Mariners back on June 5 to skew the run differential a bit.
And the Astros have been in some close ones, playing three extra-inning games within a week at one point. That was enough for management to call on more pitching help from the minors.
Carrying the Load
The guys who were brought in to fill vacancies have performed well enough, though not spectacularly.
What’s left of the regular lineup to has provided the punch during this injury stretch. Alex Bregman has been batting better than .300 in June, up from his season average of .272, serving as shortstop. Robinson Chirinos has driven in 16 runs this month, and Tony Kemp has cracked three homers and batted 10 points better than his season average.
So the Astros have done well enough during this injury-riddled stretch to keep folks buying tickets to Minute Maid Park.
For now, let’s look at the absent personnel who should be returning, most before the All-Star break:
George Springer has been taking batting practice and should be back within the next two weeks.
Jose Altuve is running again and should be rehabbing in the minors this week.
The nature of Carlos Correa’s rib injury makes his progress a little less certain, but we should know more in the next two weeks.
Aledmys Diaz recently had a setback with his hamstring injury, and there is no telling when he’ll be back.
Catcher Max Stassi is already on rehab assignment, catching for Collin McHugh, who has been throwing without pain.
We haven’t seen reliever Joe Smith all season, but he is expected to be in the bullpen by July.
Reshuffling the Lineup
That’s a lot of players returning, so dealing with fill-in players like Jack Mayfield, Myles Straw and Derek Fisher will be manager A.J. Hinch’s task.
First of all, with shortstops Correa and Diaz back, there’ll be some more infield reshuffling to get Bregman and Yuli Gurriel back to their regular positions at third and first. Altuve’s return at second will probably send Mayfield back to triple A.
Springer will likely unseat Straw in the outfield, and Stassi and Garrett Stubbs may have to arm wrestle for a spot in the catching rotation, since Chirinos has played so well.
Pitching will require more delicate handling, since a few short performances sometimes go a long way. But we expect Rogelio Armenteros’ short stint in Houston to end with both Smith and McHugh back. The starting rotation should see little change.
Meanwhile, the Astros have a big road trip upcoming, with three in Cincinnati and four in Yankee Stadium. Yes, the New York trip is our midseason preview of what looks to be a postseason showdown.
The Astros are back in Houston June 25 to start a home stand with the Pirates and Mariners.