Astros still in good shape after injury-plagued first half

July 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

You must go back to 2016 -- the last time the Astros didn’t make the playoffs -- to find a Houston club that had as few as 50 wins at the All-Star break and wasn’t in first place in the American League West. The defending World Series champions have underachieved in some areas, but injuries have played a huge role in their struggles.

Considering the injuries they’ve had, the fact the Astros are only two games behind the Texas Rangers is impressive. All-Star slugger missed the final 28 games before the break with an oblique injury and star second baseman  missed the first 43 games of the season with a fractured thumb and the last six games with an oblique injury.

The Astros lost three-fifths of their starting rotation to injury, although one of those pitchers, José Urquidy, could be back by the start of August. Alvarez and Altuve are nearing a return as well, so there are reasons for optimism in the second half.

In the meantime, let’s look back at the first half:

What we learned in the first half

You can never have enough pitching. Yes, it seemed the Astros did have plenty of pitching last year when they ran through the playoffs and had the luxury of stashing two starters (Urquidy and Luis Garcia) in the bullpen in October, but injuries have ravaged their rotation in ‘23. Four rookie starting pitchers have logged 35 starts in Houston’s 91 games in the first half. They have helped keep the rotation competitive and Urquidy is close to returning, but the Astros could use another pitcher.

Likely Trade Deadline strategy

The Astros will be buyers, which should come as no surprise. But Astros fans who have gotten used to the team pulling off impact midseason trades for the likes of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke might want to temper expectations. There’s a case to be made that getting Alvarez, Altuve and Urquidy back from the IL will be enough to bolster their playoff chances. And if they do add, it probably wouldn’t be a big-name player or pitcher.

Key player

Alvarez. The slugger was leading the Major Leagues with 55 RBIs when he injured his oblique swinging the bat on June 8 in Toronto and landed on the injured list. The Astros went 14-14 sans Alvarez in the 28 games before the break. He is expected to begin a Minor League rehab assignment shortly after returning from the All-Star Game. Altuve is also close to returning from an oblique injury. Keep in mind that Alvarez and Altuve have been in the lineup together for only 13 games in 2023 and the Astros are 10-3 in those games.

Prospect to watch

Spencer Arrighetti. Could the Astros’ addition to the starting rotation be one of the organization's top pitching prospects? Look at it this way: If the Astros aren’t going to acquire a big-name pitcher, why not see what Arrighetti has to offer? And all it will cost is some service time.

Arrighetti, the team’s highest-ranked right-handed pitching prospect, had a 4.15 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings at Double-A before getting promoted last month to Triple-A, where he has a 4.50 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.