Let’s discuss the Astros’ biggest X-factor heading into the 2018 postseason.
From August 10th through September 29th, Carlos Correa posted a slash line of .180/.261/.256 with a 45 wRC+ in 153 plate appearances. His best game in recent memory was arguably on September 29th in Baltimore as he had two hits, a double and a home run, against the Orioles. It was his first home run since August 24th in Anaheim. Since returning from his stint on the DL, courtesy of a back injury, Correa has not looked the All-Star shortstop we’ve seen him become in recent years. Heck, he hasn’t looked like himself since mid-June. That’s not good for Houston.
That said, the Astros‘ biggest X-factor as the postseason starts is Correa. If the extra days of rest are beneficial, then the rest of the AL should watch out. There isn’t a team more scary than the Astros when everyone is healthy and clicking. For example, Houston finished with a franchise-best record of 103-59. Only the Red Sox finished with more wins at 108. But the Astros underperformed if you go by underlining hitting and pitching metrics. Just imagine if Houston was fully healthy all season long?
Remember that Houston did not play its best baseball for most of the season as there were injuries and various struggles. Losing Correa along with Jose Altuve and George Springer for extended periods of time did not help matters. The lineup faltered at multiple times, especially in late July and early August. Correa’s absence was a key reason behind this slump. He’s a major cog in the machine.
Now, do the Astros need Correa to hit double-digit home runs and post a 150+ wRC+ in the postseason to repeat? Nope. The age-24 shortstop did post a respectable .288/.325/.562 with a 136 wRC+ in the postseason last year. But Houston doesn’t need even this level of quality plate appearances to win. But one has to figure that he has to perform better than his 2018 slash line of .239/.323/.405 to help Houston win another title.
Despite better results following a few days off in late September, there is still cause for concern with Correa. For one, a back injury isn’t an overnight fix. It saps a hitter’s ability to swing the bat and make solid contact. There is a reason why Correa’s numbers are low following his return from the DL, and I believe the back is still affecting him. That’s why the Astros rested him towards the end of the month before the postseason. Also, his average exit velocity between September 26th through September 29th was 84.2 MPH on seven batted balls. Sure, the sample size is quite small, but still not great for a hitter who has routinely averaged a 90.3 MPH exit velocity from 2016 through 2017. Outside of the last game where his average exit velocity was 92 MPH on four batted balls, Correa hasn’t hit as hard as one would like.
The Astros are essentially banking on extra rest will allow him to regain enough health to swing the bat effectively. It could work or it may not, but Correa and Houston don’t really have a choice right now. The last game though did inspire some confidence that the extra will help. All I know is that the Astros are much better when Correa is hitting the ball hard. If he isn’t, well, the rest of the lineup will need to step up like they already have since late June.