5 storylines that will decide the fate of the Astros season

The Astros are looking for another AL West championship, an eighth straight trip to the ALCS, and a third World Series title in eight years. These storylines will determine how their 2024 season shakes out.

Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Seven
Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Seven / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages
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No. 1: Do Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez bounce back?

No greater storyline surrounds the Astros in 2024 than what happens with Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez. The Josh Hader signing was massive, and the extension of Jose Altuve was a big deal. They could have bolstered their lineup even further, hired a different manager than Espada, and handed the starting catching reigns to Victor Caratini instead of Díaz.

No one question will impact the Astros' fate more than which versions of Javier and Valdez show up. In 2022, a very real case could have been made that Cristian Javier was the best pitcher in the game. Whether he was a starter or reliever, he was totally un-hittable, holding the opposition to a .170 batting average, recording a 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.7 SO/9. He started two combined no-hitters, including one in the World Series, and was untouchable in October.

Framber Valdez was just as good, going 17-6 with a 2.81 ERA, starting three complete games, throwing a league best 201.1 innings, and finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young voting.

Neither came close to replicating their 2022 form in 2023. Javier lost his mechanics amidst a battle with fatigue, and finished with a 4.56 ERA. His slider regressed mightily, making his previously dynamic "invisi-ball" fastball much more hittable. Valdez still finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting, largely due to his dominant first half, but in the second half, Valdez imploded.

Over his last 14 starts, Valdez posted a 4.66 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP. He suffered multiple break-downs on the mound, throwing at multiple batters, getting ejected from rivalry games, and topping it off with three nightmarish playoff starts.

With the pitch clock being shortened even more, can Valdez get himself settled down when things don't go his way on the mound? Will he trust Yainer Díaz and Victor Caratini catching him in the place of Maldy?

If Houston can get the Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez of 2022 back, they could walk to the World Series. If they can get an ERA between 3.3-3.5 from both and limit the implosions, they should win another AL West title.

If both remain 4+ ERA pitchers, the Astros could be in trouble. If Houston makes any noise at all this year, it will come down to which editions of Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier show up.