Astros Collapse Swift, Painful

added 8/8/2016 by Bob Hulsey

How bad has it been for the Houston Astros lately? As they enter their road series in Minnesota on Monday, they are one game better than a team that just got rid of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez. Think the Yankees were a bit hasty with their fire sale?

I can't print on a family website what my reaction was on the day of the trading deadline when I realized the Rangers had acquired Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy while the Astros had merely lightened their payroll. Suffice it to say it was similar to "we're done".

The Astros made a mad dash to get from 11 games behind the Rangers to 2-1/2 games behind only to watch certain cinderellas turn back into pumpkins while others took a seat on a suddenly expanding disabled list. In the past ten games, the Astros have lost five games in the standings to our northern neighbors and now stand 7-1/2 games out. They were 10 games over .500. Now, they're just three.

Not long ago, I noted Fangraphs showed the Astros with a 59% chance of making the playoffs. Today, it's 16%. Yes, a four-game deficit in the wild card standings and a 7-1/2 game deficit in the division standings are not impossible to overcome. But the steam engine that we saw in June and July has simply petered out in August.

Part of the blame is the that the Astros feasted on Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim and interleague opponents while never being able to show that they could topple the best teams of the AL East and AL Central. They are 21-27 in interdivision play and, of course, 2-11 head-to-head with the Rangers. If they can get to mid-September still in contention, they get to feast again on the Mariners. Athletics and Angels the rest of the way but those aren't the teams the Astros would have to beat in the postseason so a playoff berth would likely be a quick exit anyway.

That's not to say the Astros don't have a bright future but it may not hit its stride until next season at the earliest. Between now and then, the Astros need to find more dependable hitters, figure out their outfield, catching, and first base positions plus find a dependable closer to go with a steady starting staff.

We'll know going into next spring what we have in Alex Bregman, Joe Musgrove, Preston Tucker, A.J. Reed and Yulieski Gurriel because of this year's collapse that we don't know today. I would not expect to see Carlos Gomez, Colby Rasmus or Luis Valbuena back next year, possibly not Jason Castro either.

If the Astros can craft a healthy rotation out of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Musgrove and a fifth arm next year there's a real chance to dominate. Some leadership needs to emerge and the team needs to be able to win when it matters, certainly including against the Rangers.

The Astros should be applauded for making the 2016 season interesting after their awful 7-17 start but there should also be a very strong sense in their clubhouse that this year's results aren't good enough to be satisfied with. Fans must see a hunger to win a division and win a pennant instead of being a nice show with some potential down the road.

That's what happens when you keep building for tomorrow. Eventually, you have to answer for today.