Astros: A critical road trip and the trade deadline looms on the horizon

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 29: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros throws out Isiah Kiner-Falefa #9 of the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park on July 29, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 29: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros throws out Isiah Kiner-Falefa #9 of the Texas Rangers in the fifth inning at Minute Maid Park on July 29, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Astros are entering their most critical stretch of games this season.

Following a disappointing home sweep courtesy of the Rangers over the weekend, the Astros begin a critical road trip on the West Coast on Monday. By the way, the trade deadline is Tuesday. Fun times, right? Wait, is fun the right word?

Without Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, the Astros’ lineup is clearly missing a bit of firepower. Or a lot, depending on your viewpoint. Sure, eight runs over three games isn’t absolutely dreadful, but not a praiseworthy performance. The defense didn’t help matters much with five errors over the three games against Texas. Last place Texas, I might add.

The bullpen implosion on Friday night helped set the tone early in the series. If there was a positive to be found, it would have to be the starting pitchers. While Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers were not “lights out”, all three did keep the Astros in the game. Again, go back to the lineup, bullpen, and defense to see where the games got out of hand.

Regardless of the outcome, the Astros now head into the Pacific Northwest to challenge the Mariners before heading to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Entering Monday, the Astros only have a four-game lead over Seattle and a six-game lead on Oakland even though the A’s are hot on everyone’s trail. Monday’s matchup features a Gerrit ColeJames Paxton showdown, which is exciting and nerve wracking. The next week of games may very well be the most critical stretch of the season for Houston.

Then there is the trade deadline, which occurs on Tuesday. While the rumors will run rampant, it is somewhat difficult to peg the Astros. Acquiring right-handed reliever Ryan Pressly from the Twins last Friday night should pay dividends down the road, especially with Ken Giles still residing in Fresno. Left field could be a position to upgrade, but top prospect Kyle Tucker only has 46 major league plate appearances. It did take Tucker time to adjust to Triple-A pitchers in Fresno, so I hope that is the case with his adjustments to major league pitchers. His underlying numbers have been encouraging, so a turnaround may be around the corner. Catcher is another position where an upgrade is plausible, yet the only noteworthy option is J.T. Realmuto. Houston’s front office should explore a trade for Miami’s star catcher, but I am rather doubtful anything will occur on this front before the trade deadline.

And, no, Bryce Harper-to-Houston isn’t a probable scenario. It is extremely unlikely, in my opinion. For one, I don’t expect the Nationals to sell at the deadline. And while I understand the positive attributes Harper would bring to the lineup, odds are that he doesn’t move the needle much in one direction for the Astros in 2018. Add the fact that he is an impending free-agent this winter, I would feel uncomfortable with trading a prospect like Yordan Alvarez for a short-term rental. By the way, I am not a prospect hoarder. That said, a postseason lineup with Harper, Correa, Altuve, Alex Bregman, and George Springer would be downright amazing to watch. But, again, it is extremely unlikely.

CTH’s own Eric Huysman mentioned Nationals’ infielder Daniel Murphy as a potential trade candidate. Like any hypothetical deal with Harper, this possibility is contingent on Washington deciding to sell, which is a point of debate leading up to tomorrow. But Murphy, or any similar player, can help fill a void while Correa and Altuve return from the DL. In addition to injuries, it hasn’t helped matters that various Astros have taken a step back in production, including Marwin Gonzalez. Over 362 plate appearances this season, the Astros’ super-sub has a 88 OPS+. Over 515 plate appearances in 2017, Gonzalez had a 147 OPS+. In general, the Astros’ lineup has been one of the best in baseball, but the absence of Correa and Altuve has recently accentuated the flaws of the offense.

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All of that said, this is no time for the Astros to panic. They are still in first place in the AL West with excellent players, but the team has to perform better than it did this past weekend. The trade deadline adds a bit more intrigue to the week, but I expect little action from Houston. Of course, I’ve been wrong before at past deadlines.