The Astros trounced the division-rival Athletics on Monday to up their lead in the American League West to 7 1/2 games. With the AL’s second-best record (65-37), Houston doesn’t need much outside help, but general manager Jeff Luhnow is unsurprisingly considering upgrades as the July 31 trade deadline nears. Luhnow on Monday discussed a couple areas the Astros may be able to improve by the deadline. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle was among those to cover his comments (Twitter links: 1, 2, 3).
As was the case two-plus weeks ago, Luhnow remains open to bolstering his team’s staff with “a playoff rotation starter.” However, as things stand, Luhnow believes the club “can win a seven-game series against any playoff team right now.” The Astros already have a built-in advantage going into a potential playoff series with superstars Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole atop their rotation. Soft-tossing lefty Wade Miley is a lot less exciting than either Verlander or Cole, but Miley has turned in a quality season in his own right. The rest of the Astros’ rotation is far less certain, though, especially with injured No. 4 starter Brad Peacock likely out until at least mid-August with shoulder problems.
The Astros’ rotation has handed off to a bullpen that’s currently devoid of a left-hander, which is something Luhnow could find in the coming days. But Luhnow isn’t discriminating based on a reliever’s handedness.
“(In the) bullpen, we think about the best relievers — we don’t care if they’re left or right — and being a good reliever in this league means you have to get both sides out,” he said. “We’re not really looking for a lefty specialist or a reliever just cause he’s a lefty.”
It’s worth noting that several of the Astros’ most notable relievers (Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh) have neutralized lefties this year despite lacking the platoon advantage. In all, the Astros’ bullpen has been a top-notch unit, ranking third in ERA, fourth in K/BB ratio and eighth in FIP.
Houston hasn’t been as fortunate behind the plate, where its catchers have combined for a meager 0.8 fWAR. Offseason pickup Robinson Chirinos started the year at a breakneck pace, but despite a three-hit game Monday, his production has plummeted in recent weeks. Furthermore, he’s not a well-regarded defensive option. As a light-hitting defensive maven, backup Max Stassi represents Chirinos’ polar opposite. Stassi has been borderline unplayable because of his toothless bat this year, though, which may have played a part in the Astros’ recent interest in Martin Maldonado. He’s now unavailable, having gone from the Royals to the Cubs in a trade last week, but the Astros haven’t stopped checking a thin market for catchers.