added 9/16/2015 by Greg Thurston
Has the clock finally struck midnight on the 2015 Astros and their Cinderella season? After spending the bulk of the campaign atop the A.L. West standings, Tuesday night's 6-5 loss in Arlington dropped A.J. Hinch's team into second place. Although Hinch remains optimistic, and would never use injuries as an excuse, the club has been hit with a rash of nagging boo-boos in recent days.
Centerfielder Carlos Gomez, who had recently begun to heat things up with the bat, suffered what is being called a "mild" intercostal strain while taking batting practice last Friday. As hard as Gomez likes to swing, I'm having trouble buying into the Astros' assessment that he will only miss a few games.
Sunday's hero, Jed Lowrie, had to leave Monday night's game after fouling a ball of his shin and absorbing a Cole Hamels slider to the same area on the next pitch. Lowrie, who had already missed 83 games this season with a thumb injury, continues to have a hard time overcoming his injury-prone reputation.
The versatile Marwin Gonzalez, who did such a tremendous job filling in for Lowrie that he has forced his way into the everyday lineup, has missed the last two games with a swollen left index finger. X-rays on the digit were negative and Marwin could return soon.
The player the Astros have missed the most this month has to be Jason Castro. The starting catcher has been out since August 29th with a strained right quad. While Hank Conger has done a nice job with the bat during Castro's absence, his inability to throw out base stealers (3% compared to 35% for Castro) has been a serious problem. The Astros are so anxious to get Jason back behind the plate that there has been talk of activating him even though the quad is less than 100 percent.
The Astros can attribute some of this year's success to the fact that they have, for the most part, been able to stay healthy. Lowrie, George Springer, and Scott Feldman are the only key players to have spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. Feldman logged only 18 starts, dealing with a midseason knee injury and, more recently, a shoulder strain that ended his season. Springer missed 53 games with a fractured right wrist and has yet to find his power stroke sine returning earlier this month.
In his first ten games back, Springer has only one extra-base hit. George has yet to homer and his only RBI came on a fielder's choice. Albeit a small sample size, Springer's .220/.319/.293 slash line pales in comparison to his .264/.365/.457 pre-injury numbers. If Springer doesn't return to form soon, the Astros could have a hard time staying in the playoff hunt.
This year's bullpen has been a source of strength and, again, staying healthy has been key. Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson have made us all forget about Matt Albers and Jesse Crain by anchoring a 'pen that is one of the best in the league. Chad Qualls had a brief bout with a sore neck earlier in the season but has come back strong. Will Harris, who was practically untouchable for most of the year, is experiencing a terrible week. On the mound when the winning run scored in each of the last three Astros' losses, one has to wonder if maybe Harris could be hurting and benefit by a few days off to get healthy.
Injuries have always been a part of the game, and every team has them. The good teams are the ones that are able to overcome such obstacles. With so many players banged up, the time is right for a much-needed boost from an unlikely source. Can someone else step up and answer the call in a Marwin-like manner? Calling Chris Carter. Calling Chris Carter. The Astros Opening Day first-baseman turned slumping forgotten man could get a chance for redemption. A second-half surge in 2014 that garnered Carter a spot on MLB Network's list of the "Top 100 players right now" could seem like an ancient memory to Chris. But a month-long benching may have rejuvenated the big man. In Tuesday's return to the lineup, Carter smacked an RBI double and a pair of deep fly outs.
The pitching and defense have been solid all season and a little bit of timely hitting could bring it all home. Whether it be Carter, Springer, or someone else, I see no reason to believe that this Cinderella story comes to an end until after a visit to the (postseason) ball.