Occasionally, the Houston Astros flash reminders of just how shorthanded they remain, even through all the success they have enjoyed with five critical position players stuck on the 10-day injured list.
During one eight-inning stretch Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Astros proved unable to record a base hit. And as they ready to host the Toronto Blue Jays for a three-game weekend series opening Friday at Minute Maid Park, what they still lack is sometimes glaring.
Houston won't have Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Aledmys Diaz, George Springer or Max Stassi against the Blue Jays. Without them, the Astros remain vulnerable to lengthy dry spells at the plate like the one that greased the skids to their 6-3 loss to the Brewers. The Astros still feature one of the best offenses in baseball, but the bulk of those numbers were built when their lineup was intact, before Houston was forced to scratch across runs with a roster full of replacements.
"Hitting is hard," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't fault our guys' plan, approach or effort."
The Astros remain hopeful that Altuve, Diaz and Springer will all return before the end of June.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.72 ERA) gets the start in the series opener for the Astros. Cole has faced the Blue Jays just once previously, allowing four runs on seven hits and one walk with six strikeouts over five innings on May 2, 2014. He did not factor into the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates won 6-5.
Cole followed up a season-low four strikeouts against the Oakland Athletics on June 2 with a season-best 14 strikeouts against the Baltimore Orioles on June 7 in a 4-3 Houston victory. Cole is averaging a career-high 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2019.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-7, 4.25). Sanchez is 3-1 with a 3.66 ERA over five career appearances (three starts) against the Astros, last facing them on July 7, 2017. He surrendered eight runs (five earned) on seven hits, including a pair of home runs, plus four walks while recording only five outs in a 12-2 loss. Sanchez has dropped six consecutive decisions, posting a 5.71 ERA and .846 OPS allowed during that stretch.
Toronto rookie right fielder Cavan Biggio recorded his first career multi-homer game Thursday, slugging two solo homers while going 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two RBIs and a walk in the Blue Jays' 12-3 victory at Baltimore. His big night came in advance of his homecoming.
Biggio, who made his big-league debut on May 24, is the son of Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
"I'm excited to go home and see my family and see my dogs," Biggio said. "I haven't seen them since I left for spring training, but besides that, it's going to be pretty weird playing in a stadium that I pretty much grew up in.
"It's going to be a pretty cool experience for my parents. They've been going to that stadium for 20 years and now they're going for a pretty cool reason, a pretty different reason. So overall, it's going to be pretty special."
--Field Level Media