Major League Baseball

Problems Mount in Houston

September 19, 2020

The 2020 MLB season has been anything but smooth sailing for the reigning American League champion Houston Astros.

After being forced to forfeit their first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft, while also being fined $5 million by MLB for their sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Astros have struggled to regroup.

And their struggles continued on Saturday.

Houston sits at 25-26 with nine games remaining, and if the Astros do make their way into playoffs, it will be without their ace Justin Verlander, who announced on Instagram on Saturday morning that he will miss the remainder of the 2020 season, as he is set to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Verlander hadn't pitched since the season opener against the Seattle Mariners on July 24, and there is a chance that this could be the end of Verlander's time in Houston, a run that has proven to be fruitful for he and the Astros franchise.

The loss of Verlander is a major blow for an already reeling Astros team, one that has seen its 3-year run of dominance from 2017-2019 return to earth in 2020.

After winning the AL West the past three seasons, all while securing an MLB-leading 311 victories during that span, Houston's chances of winning the division for a fourth consecutive season are slim to none.

The Oakland Athletics currently hold a 7-game lead over the Astros in the division with those nine games remaining.

The absence of Verlander, combined with the 2019 AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole signing with the New York Yankees this past offseason, has caused the once vaunted Astros pitching staff to fall from third in ERA in 2019 (3.66) to 13th overall in 2020 (4.43).

If the playoffs started today, the Astros would rank seventh out of eight playoff teams in ERA in the AL.

The struggles haven't just fallen on the pitching staff either. 

After six players registerd at least a .290 batting average in 2019, the Astros only have one such player in 2020 – left-fielder Michael Brantley is batting .300.

The 2017 AL MVP and 3-time batting champion Jose Altuve has perhaps struggled the most this season, seeing his average drop to .218, nearly 100 points below his career average of .312.

In addition, Altuve's on-base percentage (.287), slugging percentage (.314) and WAR (0.0) are all down significantly from last season.

Houston's other infield superstar, Carlos Correa, has also seen drops in batting averaged, OBP, SLG and WAR in 2020.

It appears that Houston officially has a problem. Whether it can overcome in over the next week is still TBD.


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