Houston Astros struggles are real; why it’s too early to count them out

Houston Astros manager Joe Espada
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since revelations about the Houston Astros cheating scandal became public ahead of the 2020 season, fans around baseball have been waiting for the team’s downfall. Hopefully nobody has been holding their breath, because it hasn’t come just yet. However, with a 7-16 start to the 2024 campaign, Houston is going to have to climb quite a bit to re-assert themselves this season.

According to the Twitter account Brooks Gate, 103 teams have started a MLB season 7-16, and only one of those teams has made the playoffs. That team was the 1981 Kansas City Royals. It should be noted that those Royals finished with a cumulative 50-53 record in a strike-shortened season, and only made the postseason because they went 30-23, winning the AL West in the second half. They were swept by the Oakland A’s in the first round.

With no strike looming, and history not exactly on their side, the Astros would appear to be in trouble. However, it’s still much too early to believe that the villains of baseball are out of it. Not by a long shot.

First, some (bad) stats for the Houston Astros

Houston Astros manager Joe Espada
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Not only do the Houston Astros have the second-worst record in the American League with only the truly awful Chicago White Sox behind them, but they are 0-7 against the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, two of MLB’s better teams in 2024. They’re also coming off a series loss against the Washington Nationals, a team that is still in the process of rebuilding.

On the bright side, they’ve split a four-game series with the Texas Rangers, won two of three against the Rangers in another series, and then won two of three against the Toronto Blue Jays. This coming weekend they play two games against the Colorado Rockies in Mexico City, so two games that they should definitely win under normal circumstances are going to be played in Coors Field on acid. The first game between the Padres and Giants at that venue last year ended with a score of 16-11.

Houston currently ranks 15th in runs scored, which isn’t terrible. But when you pair it with their pitching staff’s ERA of 5.10 on the season, then you end up with a 7-16 record. That ERA ranks 29th, with the only team behind them being the Colorado Rockies. When adjusting for the ballparks, it’s actually Colorado that ranks 29th, with Houston dropping to last. That 5.10 ERA includes the no-hitter that Ronel Blanco threw during the first week of the season, too.

Offensively, Jose Abreu has been struggling mightily, starting the season 4-for-59 (.068) with a .138 OBP. He has one extra-base hit this season.

Time for some hopium in Houston

The Astros have been bad. But this team is filled with guys that have done it before. The regular season is typically practice for this club. They’ll look completely beatable heading into October, and then make a run to the ALCS. They’ve played for a chance to go to the World Series in each of the past seven seasons. If there is a team that should be able to turn things around after a roughly few weeks, it’s this one.

Then you add in that even with this horrendous start, that the Astros sit just five back of first in the AL West, and that’s one good week from turning things around. The Rangers currently lead the division at 12-11, and Houston has already gone 4-3 against the defending champs, even with the start they are off to.

Next month Houston will get 14 games combined against the A’s and Mariners, plus another three against the Angels. If Houston starts stringing together some wins against those clubs, then they’ll be in a better position in no time.

Related: 2024 MLB playoff predictions

Injuries and underperformance for the Houston Astros

Houston Astros' Justin Verlander
Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After starting the season on the IL, Justin Verlander is back in the Astros rotation. In his first start of the season against the Nationals, the 41-year-old went six innings and gave up two earned on four hits. For Houston to avoid any further problems, he’ll need to be vintage Verlander.

Josh Hader and Ryan Pressly currently hold ERAs of 8.38 and 8.31. The thing with early-season reliever ERAs is that one bad outing can linger in the overall statistics for weeks. Each arm has allowed four runs in one outing so far this season, hence the inflated numbers. Hader’s FIP is still 2.81, right in line with what it was last season when he finished the season with a 1.28 ERA. Pressly’s 3.34 FIP is also right in line with what he had in 2023 when he finished the season with a 3.58 ERA.

They should both be fine.

The tricky part of the equation for Houston will be finding enough good arms to build out a rotation. One of the team’s better starters this season, Cristian Javier, was placed on the IL over the weekend with neck discomfort. Framber Valdez landed on the IL earlier this month, but should be ready for a return by the end of April. If Javier doesn’t miss much time, then Houston’s pitching woes could go away in short order with four solid starters–Verlander, Blanco, Valdez, and Javier–all healthy and firing darts.

Would the Astros have liked to have gotten off to a better start? Of course. But this team has shown year after year that regular season results don’t matter as long as they get into the postseason. The only thing that could seemingly keep this team out of postseason play would be incurring too many injuries to overcome.

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