When the Houston Astros pulled off the blockbuster trade to acquire Justin Verlander at the trade deadline, the hope was that that move would address the team's big weakness. Between bringing Verlander in and getting Jose Urquidy back from the injured list, it sure seemed like the Astros' rotation was going to hit it's stride at exactly the right time.
However, that is not how things have played out in the month of August. In 19 starts this month, the Houston starting rotation has put up a 5.18 ERA and their 0.7 fWAR total ranks just 22nd in all of baseball which is decidedly not great and could not have come at a worse time. The division leading Rangers had really faltered over the last week or so, but the Astros' pitching staff gave up 19 runs to the red-hot Mariners and Houston got swept by Seattle. Prime opportunities to make up ground in the division are going to be rare and that was a very obvious missed one.
The good news is that Justin Verlander has been just fine
If Houston fans are looking for a silver lining here, it is that the troubles in the rotation can't be blamed on Verlander's arrival. While his 4.50 ERA in the three starts since he returned to the Astros isn't awesome, he has still led the staff in fWAR in August at 0.5 and his 3.93 FIP points to him pitching better than his overall line indicates.
There is some cause for concern for Verlander in the long-term, though. His strikeout rate this season is way down from his career averages and has actually gotten worse in the small sample since Houston traded for him. Fortunately, he is still not walking many batters and has the experience to make adjustments as the season goes on. However, Father Time is undefeated and hopefully his decline this season isn't a sign of things to come.
What happened to Framber Valdez and Hunter Brown?
Cristian Javier and his 5.59 ERA and -0.2 fWAR in August has been the Astros' worst performer in the rotation this month, but Houston has bigger problems than him. Through the first half, Framber Valdez was looking like a legitimate Cy Young candidate and Hunter Brown was putting together a really strong season of his own.
However, something has changed in August as Valdez stopped missing bats all of a sudden and his 4.71 ERA in four starts this month has been decidedly subpar. Valdez has been particularly bad in the three starts since his no hitter at the beginning of the month and may need some sort of break to rest and reset.
Brown's drop-off has been even worse as he has posted a 7.98 ERA in three starts with issues with the long ball being primarily to blame there. Fortunately, most of Brown's other metrics seem to the same, so hopefully this is just an unlucky rough patch.
In any case, Houston needs to get these issues in their rotation sorted out quickly. Otherwise, not only could the division race get away from them, but making the playoffs at all could be in jeopardy.