The Astros have the best record in baseball. That means the team is doing something right.
There are a lot of positives for this team including the amount of depth offensively. However, on the defensive side, the lack of depth in the starting rotation should bring some worry in regards to the long-term success of this team.
As a whole, the Astros pitching seems to be in pretty good shape. They are second in baseball with a 3.53 ERA, leading the MLB with 391 strikeouts and tied for second with the Cincinnati Reds with a .232 batting average against. LHP Dallas Keuchel seems to be back in his 2015 form at the top of the rotation while RHP Lance McCullers Jr. has a 2.98 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in the two spot. RHP Charlie Morton, despite the 1.37 WHIP, has been fooling hitters with his mid-nineties two-seam fastball, striking out 54 batters in 45.1 innings of work and is second on the team with five wins. Despite struggling in April, RHP Joe Musgrove has been good in his last two starts, giving up a combined three earned runs on 12 hits and four walks in his 11.2 innings of work, striking out nine.
However, near the back end of the rotation, RHP Mike Fiers has really struggled. Through seven starts, the 31-year-old has a 5.75 ERA with a 1.47 WHIP, giving up an average of four home runs per nine innings. In his first three starts in the month of May, Fiers has not given up as many hits, giving up 15 in 16.2 innings of work. However, eight of those 15 hits were home runs, including two in his last start against the New York Yankees on May 14.
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There have been many different ideas on what Astros manager A.J. Hinch should do with that fifth spot in the rotation. Some, including Eric Huysman, believe the answer comes from Triple-A Fresno, with prospects such as RHP David Paulino and RHP Francis Martes seemingly close to earning big league playing time. Others, especially national reporters, believe that the answer may be through big-time trades for pitches such as LHP Jose Quintana.
However, people seem to be forgetting about a certain right-hander currently on the disabled list with a right elbow impingement. For the past three seasons, Collin McHugh has proved to be a stable and consistent member of the Astros starting rotation, posting a 3.71 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in his career in Houston. Last season was a bit of a struggle for McHugh, posting a 4.34 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 33 starts, a career high.
It does seem like there is a long journey ahead for McHugh. After exiting a rehab start on April 6th in Fresno because of tightness in his elbow and biceps, he started throwing again, playing catch at Angles Stadium when the Astros were in Los Angeles on May 5 according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan.
With an unknown timetable for McHugh’s return, the Astros problem at the back end of the rotation does not go away.
However, with a proven starter in their back pocket, it looks like the answer does not have to be elsewhere and, therefore, expensive. It can be a prospect like Paulino or Martes. It could also be pitchers with starting experience such as RHP Chris Devenski or RHP Brad Peacock.
With the Astros at the top in the MLB, this so-called “rotation issue” can seem like a bigger problem than it actually is. Although the answer may be a couple of months away, the Astros have proved offensively and with the other pitchers in the system and currently on the roster that the team will survive. October is still five months away. The Astros have room to breathe a little bit.
***Stats provided by Baseball Reference and MLB.com***