Astros doomsday scenario: How the starting rotation can unravel the season

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 05: Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch
ATLANTA, GA - JULY 05: Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch /

Everyone is forecasting clear skies and smooth sailing for the Astros in the second half of the season.

There may not be a better team in baseball right now than the Astros. Sure, the Dodgers may have something to say about that. The Diamondbacks, Nationals and Rockies aren’t bad either. But Houston has looked the part for most of the season.

Alright, I am bit biased about the Astros; this much is clear.

All of that said, the Astros season still has the chance of self-destructing thanks to one, somewhat glaring, need.

AKA, the starting rotation.

It is a rather small chance, mind you, but it still exists.

How so, you may inquire?

Well, you are about to find out, my loyal audience.

Starting rotation collapses like a dying star

The bread-and-butter of the Astros in 2017 has been their offense and bullpen. I don’t think anyone can argue this point.

Unfortunately, a solid rotation is needed to advance far in the playoffs. Well, everyone but the 2015 Kansas City Royals.

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But I digress.

Houston will, I repeat, will need their starting rotation to be healthy to go far in the postseason. And I mean almost everyone needs to healthy.

Of course, this concept was likely covered in your “Baseball 101” course.

As you may know, the Astros have yet to see their “projected” starting rotation take the field in 2017. For example, Collin McHugh is out there rehabbing his arm somewhere on the road. Dallas Keuchel is hopefully using a better pillow in bed for his neck. And the rest of the Astros rotation is currently in bubble wrap when not in use.

That’s the hope for me, anyway.

But say Keuchel and McHugh don’t return as quality pitchers?

How about if they even return this season?

What if Lance McCullers is lost for any amount of significant time again?

Then this obviously means trouble for the Astros. And like a dying star, the collapse would be a sight to behold.

Don’t forget that Francis Martes is still new to the whole big league experience. David Paulino is serving an 80-game suspension for putting an outlawed foreign substance in his body. Brad Peacock has been a revelation as a starter, but you have to ponder how long will this last. Joe Musgrove has been consistently inconsistent.

The only alternative is to acquire one or more of the following pitchers via trade: Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, Jacob deGrom, Julio Teheran, Marcus Stroman or J.A. Happ. For all the prospect aficionados out there, you better be prepared to tell your favorite player in Fresno or Corpus Christi goodbye.

At the time of this post, the Astros rotation ranks 17th in innings pitched (492 IP). They also rank 4th in staff ERA (3.82). Odds are that Keuchel and McHugh return in the nearish future. McCullers and Charlie Morton has been shaking off the rust from his DL stint. Mike Fiers has seemingly returned from pitcher purgatory to a first half resurgence. Once everyone returns, the innings should level out with a similar ERA. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to see the rotation improve in terms of cumulative ERA and FIP.

What if it doesn’t, though?

The possibility, regardless of how unlikely, still exists.

Next: Astros: Is Jose Quintana the impact arm the team desires?

And this is just one way the Astros season can unravel.

**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**