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Are the Houston Astros still the AL Favorite?

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The competition wheels and deals while Houston stays pat at deadline

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline has come and gone. While the next month will see many players moved via trading waivers (like Yonder Alonso today to the Seattle Mariners), the dirty work was done when July peaked.

The Houston Astros entered deadline hour with the best record in the American League. They still needed some pitching. They got Francisco Liriano. It’s not enough.

Just ask Dallas Keuchel. Liriano didn’t cost the team much —Teoscar Hernandez is intriguing but will never see the outfield grass for the Astros and Nori Aoki was only blocking Derek Fisher— but this doesn’t accomplish much for the Astros.

The left-handed veteran Liriano, who will be a free agent in a few months, has an ERA above six (so does half of baseball, it seems) but has been dutiful versus lefties (.230 average against entering August) and could be a useful bullpen arm and veteran presence for A.J. Hinch’s club. The latter not the need it used to be in Houston.

So far, the bullpen idea has come to fruition. Liriano has appeared twice, lasting a third of an inning and then two-thirds, allowing an earned run each time on the hill.

The Astros can rake. Nobody has doubted that for a second. Pitching is paramount in the postseason and behind Keuchel, there’s only questions surrounding the rest of Houston’s staff. Lance McCullers, Jr. has the stuff but is currently sidelined with a back ailment.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
The Yankees acquired Sonny Gray, who many had linked to the Astros
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

You can do a lot worse than those two in games one and two but after that, there was clear room to upgrade over Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and Collin McHugh.

The Astros farm system isn’t what it used to be —in part because they’ve graduated so many prospects— but it’s still plenty resourced to get a deal or three done. Houston’s core is still young, but playoff windows are precious. I understand not overpaying, but to only bring in Liriano remains head-scratching.

Meanwhile, the opposition —the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Royals and division foe Mariners— all made moves with eyes on October. The Yankees made the biggest splash of all acquiring Sonny Gray, who was linked to the Astros perhaps more than anybody else.

Keuchel’s vocal sentiments reflect a team that knows they are good and knows they can win a World Series. But to see your immediate competition better themselves and your front office does basically nothing, it might have put the Astros behind in the 2017 World Series chase.