Whenever a team loses their best player, they’re going to struggle, or endure a losing streak; it’s just inevitable. But the Houston Astros are the defending World Series Champions and are considered to be one of the best teams in not just the American League, but Major League Baseball in general. And no single player should decimate the Astros to the point where their season goes off the rails. But in Jose Altuve‘s absence, the Astros have done just that, and their struggles highlight just how much Altuve means to their ballclub.
This season has, for the most part, been a continuation of 2017 for the Astros. They’re 74-47 and in first place in the American League West. But three weeks ago, Altuve — who is an irreplaceable piece to the puzzle for their team — hit the disabled list for the first time in his career with a knee injury. This season, the second baseman is hitting .329, has recorded just 55 strikeouts, and was en route to recording his fifth consecutive 200-plus hit season. He’s, by far, manager AJ Hinch‘s most productive hitter, and, simultaneously, a vacuum at the middle infield position.
Altuve is the best second baseman and arguably infielder in baseball, and without him, the Astros don’t pose a fearsome threat at the plate. Going into Wednesday night, Carlos Correa (who is considered one of the best shortstops in the game) was hitting just .257; George Springer and Josh Reddick were hitting .250 apiece; Marwin Gonzalez was hitting .243; Evan Gattis was hitting .234. The Astros are 10-14 in their last 24 games, and they’re not producing runs at the same clip offensively they do when Altuve is present. The two bright spots offensively, outside of Altuve, have been Alex Bregman (who went into Wednesday hitting .278 to go along with 22 home runs and 73 RBIs) and Yuli Gurriel (who went into Wednesday night hitting .281). There are big names in the Astros order, but, as a whole, they’re hitting at underwhelming rates.
Over the weekend, the Astros were swept at home by their division rivals, the Seattle Mariners, in a four-game series which garnered the attention of the baseball world.The recent struggles of the defending champs highlight the value of @JoseAltuve27, the reigning AL MVP, to the @astros lineup.Click To Tweet
The Astros are facing a dilemma that many thought was highly unlikely to occur going into the 2018 season: They have competition for the division. One month ago, the AL West appeared to be a foregone conclusion in the Astros’ favor. Ever since, the Oakland Athletics have gone on a tear and are just two games behind the Astros for first place in the division, while the Mariners are only four and a half games back.
With Altuve’s timeline not yet determined (at least publicly), there’s reason to believe that the Astros could be out of the division lead and fighting for an AL Wild Card spot in the near-future. Imagine a scenario where the Astros have to face the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game because they couldn’t hold onto the division, and even if they win the one-game playoff, they have to travel to face the otherworldly Boston Red Sox in the first round. It’s a scenario which the Astros don’t want to present itself, but, at this rate, it’s becoming a realistic quandary they may have to overcome.
With Altuve healthy, some view the Astros as the team to beat in the AL. He’s the biggest reason for why the Astros went into Wednesday night fifth in MLB in runs (583) and eighth in team batting average (.254). But once you remove the All-Star second baseman from their order, the production goes down, and the Astros look nowhere near as dangerous. And when you take into account their stout pitching staff, you can’t help but wonder how many more wins the Astros could have if their lineup picked up the slack.
Going into Wednesday night, the Astros owned, by far, the best overall team and bullpen ERA in baseball (3.07, 3.08). That figure starts and ends with their starting rotation. With Justin Verlander having quite possibly the best season of his career, Gerrit Cole coming into his own as one of the best righties in the game, Charlie Morton turning the corner, Dallas Keuchel (the Astros former ace) present, and Lance McCullers prospering, the Astros have the starting pitching necessary to potentially sweep a team in a five or seven-game series when their offense is clicking. And outside of the closer role, their bullpen has been reliable, and from a baseball standpoint — and nothing more than that — the addition of Roberto Osuna helps aid their ninth inning woes.
Without Altuve, the Astros have been a below-.500 team — which is scary to think about given the powerhouse label they’re so often given. The Red Sox are a train that cannot be stopped, and they have the best lineup in the game. The Cleveland Indians are beginning to figure things out, and they have a stellar starting rotation — much like the Astros. The Yankees are being slept on due to injuries, but they’re 5-2 versus the Astros this season. And the A’s and Mariners aren’t going anywhere. The Astros will not and can not walk their way to another AL Pennant.
Altuve is the face of the Astros, and without him, they’re not a World Series contender; Altuve’s time on the DL has shown that his value to them is priceless.