As the Houston Astros enter the final month of regular season baseball, they are in great shape to make the playoffs and push for another World Series title. They hold a double-digit first-place lead in their division and, at the time of writing, have their largest lead in the race for the best record in the American League that they have had all year at four games over the New York Yankees
Here are the five questions facing the Houston Astros in the month of September.
Despite these comfortable leads and the almost certainty that they are headed towards receiving a bye and home-field advantage throughout the American League Playoffs, there are still five big questions facing the Houston Astros as they exit the regular season and prepare for the postseason.
We’ll start with the obvious one because nothing looms larger than the fate of their ace and his strained calf.
1. How will Justin Verlander’s calf heal, and how quickly?
The news so far seems to be good in regards to Justin Verlander and his ability to return before the season is over.
As it stands according to mlb.com, the imaging shows no muscle fibers were disturbed so a 15-day IL stint should be enough time for Verlander to heal and come back.
How much that will affect his rhythm, and how long it will take to get back to throwing 100 pitches per game, is yet to be seen.
If everything goes according to plan, Verlander takes two weeks off, throws without issue, gets a couple of regular season starts under his belt to shake off the rust and build up arm strength, and is right as rain come game one of the American League Division Series.
But, any slight delay in his recovery, any reinjury, could be costly. If this were July or August, the Astros would have time for some setbacks should they occur. With October around the corner, however, Verlander doesn’t have time for a rehab assignment to get back to throwing in the way he’s accustomed.
If he suffers any kind of setback, it could jeopardize his spot in the postseason rotation, at least for the first round. If he hasn’t pitched in over a month but is healthy, is he still reliable to go deep or pitch at a Cy Young level?
Considering the Astros’ pitching depth, it would be in consideration to leave him off the ALDS roster if his recovery is slowed and trust Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier or Luis Garcia to win in the ALDS and give him time to build back up and be in the best shape possible for whoever they face in the ALCS.
Hopefully, that decision doesn’t have to be considered and everything goes according to plan, but Verlander’s health and recovery is the number one question as we enter September.