Once upon a time, the Houston Astros were the formidable team everyone feared. This was the team that won over 100 games in a span of seven seasons starting in 2017 and successfully reached the playoffs all those years. Houston had a strong rotation, bulletproof bullpen, and fearsome lineup that could fire on all cylinders. They had everything every team could possibly covet and even won the World Series in 2022. The Astros empire looked invincible, but things started to crack in 2024. 

Even before reaching the halfway point of the 2024 season, the Astros already have starting pitchers Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, José Urquidy, Lance McCullers Jr., and Luis García on the injured list. These injuries triggered the team to fill in the hole, and according to Chandler Rome at The Athletic, the team has already cycled through 22 pitchers. With the team opting not to sign or trade for any experienced starting pitchers during the offseason, the team’s pitching depth has been tested earlier on. 

Houston’s bullpen isn’t faring any better either. Even a year ago, the Astros had many reliable arms to turn to, including Ryne Stanek, Hector Neris, Phil Maton, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. Yes, the Astros did sign Josh Hader as the closer, but the trio of Hader, Abreu, and Pressly have not lived up to their potential with an earned run average (ERA) of 8.38, 4.91 and 8.31 each. ERA isn’t everything and Houston still has relievers Rafael Montero and Seth Martinez to support, but it’s evident that the bullpen is also massively underperforming at best. 

The Astros’ offence has always been explosive and that was the reason behind several years of successful seasons. The team is still in the upper tier of OPS, batting average and OPS+, indicating that Houston could turn things around offensively. However, even Houston’s lineup has been struggling mightily compared to previous seasons. Most of the struggles come from the lack of a consistent clean-up hitter who can produce runs and the Astros’ commitment to first baseman and designated hitter José  Abreu hasn’t paid off so far. 

On the surface level, Houston’s struggles look puzzling. This is the team that has achieved sustainable success and always found ways to help players succeed. But when you look closely, this was a long time in the making. The Astros haven’t gone early in the draft for nearly a decade and the team being penalized for the cheating scandal didn’t help in that department. Houston also remained more conservative in its roster overhaul over time and chose to bet on its internal solutions rather than bringing in external help to round out the roster. 

As of April 23, the Astros have seven wins and 17 losses. There is still a chance that the team could turn things around and write off this torrid stretch, but with such a flawed roster, it will be extremely challenging for Houston to make a case for the playoffs this time around. If there’s anything the Astros teach other teams through their sub-par win-loss record, it’s that even one small miscalculation and an ounce of complacency can have serious ramifications.

Compared to the languid Astros this year, the Toronto Blue Jays are doing relatively better with a 13-11 record in the competitive American League East division. The Blue Jays’ pitching depth is acceptable even if the bullpen is struggling at the moment, and the lineup production is just enough to win more games. But the problem is that the Blue Jays are also heavily relying on internal players to propel the team forward. While it’s too early to say if that strategy will pay off in the long run or not, it is a risky bet since it has the potential to flop badly. All it takes is for core internal players to underperform and the team’s back to its disappointing production.

Something to keep an eye out for is pitching health on the Blue Jays throughout the 2024 season. Last year, most of the Blue Jays’ pitchers were able to avoid long-term injuries but that pristine health is still not a full guarantee even if not many pitchers aren’t on the injured list currently. The Blue Jays have been spoiled with consistent pitching and barely enough offensive production, with pitching carrying the team more, but that luck could run out and test the team when it’s at its worst. 

The good news for the Blue Jays is that the front office has made savvy starting pitcher and reliever signings over the past few years. These moves are paying off right now and will help Toronto prevent opponents from scoring runs while giving the offence a fighting chance to provide run support. But the concern comes into play when it comes to the team’s offence as it has vastly lacked power and has not been able to capitalize on runners in scoring position as much. 

Toronto’s commitment to a glut of infielders is baffling, with not many of the infielders, outside of shortstop Bo Bichette and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., having much hope to offer a thump in the lineup. The defence metrics will also most likely suffer this year with the departure of third baseman Matt Chapman as harsh as it sounds. 

Despite constructing a rather confusing roster, the Blue Jays are coming out on top even if they aren’t winning games glamourously. However, a shameful loss from the game on April 23 against the Kansas City Royals is a sign that Toronto’s roster is also inherently flawed. Shaky infield defence and an excruciating scoring drought from that game are painful reminders that the team is far from its promises from the 2021 and 2022 seasons. 

Even so, Houston’s decline may sound esoteric to the 2024 Blue Jays, who are arguably on a better competitive path as of now. But the current iteration of the Astros serves as a warning to Toronto that the path to destruction can come much more quickly if the team doesn’t find ways to consistently strengthen the roster. Failure waits for no one — that idea alone should be scary enough for the agonizing Blue Jays.

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