Are the Houston Astros going to be in the playoffs?
With the best hitter in baseball back on active duty, the Houston Astros are heading into the back nine of the MLB season in the strongest possible position
At the beginning of the season, Houston were heavy favorites to win the AL West. This writer went even further, picking them as the eventual World Series Champions. Not that my picks are always correct, I mean, last season I went with the Dodgers as the eventual champs, and wound up experiencing the shock of the Atlanta Braves’ post season run alongside most baseball fans. Nevertheless, I stuck my neck out again this season, and picked the Astros.
Going into the All-Star break, the Astros had gone up and down, and then back up again, carrying a 59-32 record and sitting nine games clear in the AL West. The biggest question was the loss of Yordan Álvarez to injury and the question mark around Justin Verlander’s return form.
Fears that Verlander would come back from Tommy John surgery without his best stuff proved to be unfounded, as he burned up the league, earning an All-Star nod and being a serious Cy Young contender. And now, Álvarez is back on active duty.
The Astros don’t have the best record in baseball, that belongs to the Yankees. But they have something better. They have come through their dark days and managed to surface the other side with a .648 winning percentage. They have perhaps the best pitcher in the American League, and definitely the best hitter in all of baseball, and they show every sign of getting stronger.
Yordan Álvarez has been the top offensive weapon in baseball, hands down, in the first half of 2022. He has a .306 average and a .405 on-base percentage. Where he is dominant is in slugging, with a mind-numbing .653 heading into the back half of July. His 26 home runs put him in fourth place behind three players who all have at least 83 more plate appearances than he does.
Houston did a deal for six years and $115 million with Yordan in the off season, setting the Astros up to dominate the American League for the foreseeable future.
With the starting rotation that Houston boasts, there is little reason to revise my early season prediction. The Astros can lean back on Franber Valdez and Cristian Javier when Verlander needs rest and the strikeouts simply pour out of the bullpen. Neither the Angels, with Trout and Ohtani, nor the Yankees, with Judge and Stanton, could hold back the tide of Ks, surrendering 27 of them in two games alone.
With the loss of Carlos Correa, the Astros could have had a difficult hole to fill, but yet again have come up trumps. Jeremy Peña is, if anything, an upgrade at the shortstop position.
The dog days of summer are upon us and, of course, anything can happen in baseball. But up to this point, the Astros have everything in their favor. And they look to just be getting started.