HOUSTON -- It's been four days since we last dipped into the Inbox, and it was a weekend to forget for the Astros. They were swept in four games by the A's in Oakland on the heels of a seven-game winning streak, getting outscored 41-15 in the process.
The streaking Indians have passed the Astros for the best record in the American League, but the Astros could still clinch the AL West as soon as Friday, and they could do it at home. With three weeks left in the season, there's time for them to find their stride heading into the playoffs.
So let's open up the Inbox and see what's on your mind:
How many players are on a playoff roster? What notable players will be left off?
-- Jeff S, Houston
There will be 25 players on the playoff roster, and the roster can be changed before each series. The Astros can pick from any player who was in their organization by Aug. 31 to put on the playoff roster, so there are a lot of ways they can go.
How many pitchers will they carry? Setting the roster depends on that, as well the matchup and who's playing well at the time. That makes it hard to predict who will be on it. I'm sure you could pick out 20-22 names that would be locks, with the rest up in the air. The final couple spots in the bullpen and final bench player will be the biggest decisions.
Do you think the September callups negatively impact the chemistry of a team? What would you change (if anything) about the callup rules?
-- David J., Spring, Texas
I don't think the callups have any chemistry effects, but it certainly is weird to have 35-plus players on the roster after playing all season with only 25. There's a growing sentiment -- and Astros manager A.J. Hinch is included in this -- to keep the active roster at 25 players in September, which is when games matter most. It seems unusual to play the games with different rules in September than you did the rest of the year. Right now, the Astros will take all the bodies they can get considering the struggles they had on the mound in Oakland.
Do you think the lack of bullpen production is a short-term issue or something that can be a problem in the postseason, like in 2015?
-- Blake W., Houston
The bullpen is an issue, no doubt. There was a good stretch in August when the relief corps was getting it done, but they allowed 17 walks, 30 hits and 29 runs in 12 2/3 innings in Oakland. Bullpens and their usage become magnified in the playoffs, and the Indians and the Red Sox -- the two teams the Astros will likely have to get through to get to the World Series -- have the best bullpens in the big leagues.
With the addition of Justin Verlander to the starting rotation, I think adding some quality arms to the bullpen is the Astros' biggest priority in the offseason at this point. They could use another lock-down reliever at the back end and a quality left-hander.
What is the biggest priority for the club: Getting the #1 Seed or having everyone healthy and in defined pitching roles?
-- Jacob S., Pasadena, Texas
It's not an either/or scenario. The Astros can walk down both paths at the same time. Game 1 of the American League Division Series is scheduled for Oct. 5, so if the Astros finish the season with Dallas Keuchel pitching on Sept. 30 and Verlander on Oct. 1, they could still start the ALDS with the Keuchel and Verlander pitching Games 1 and 2 on four days of rest.
Sure, you'd like to give them a few extra days before the playoffs start, but getting the top seed means the Astros would play the Wild Card winner. That would be way more advantageous for the Astros than getting the second seed and playing Boston.
Do you think George Springer and Carlos Correa were rushed back too quickly? They haven't been the same since coming from the DL.
-- Israel S., Houston
I don't think so because both appear to be healthy, but I understand your concern. Correa is hitting .182 with one extra-base hit in 33 at-bats since missing about five weeks with a thumb injury, but remember he started the season slowly (one extra-base hit in his first 56 at-bats) before becoming a force. He has three weeks to get going at the plate.
Springer's sample size is larger. He's hitting. 237 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 114 at-bats since being activated Aug. 9 following a DL stint with quad discomfort. Again, Springer looks healthy as well, so Astros fans can only hope he'll get it going, too.
Are the Astros looking to sign our young core guys (Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Springer, Correa) to any long term extensions?
-- Matt K., Round Rock, Texas
I'm sure they will try, but it might be hard to sign them all. Keuchel will be a free agent after the 2018 season, and I think the two sides will talk about an extension this offseason so Keuchel doesn't enter the '18 season in the final year of his contract. Altuve is under the Astros' control for two more years following this one. There's a reason he changed agents to Scott Boras a couple of years ago. He'll be a free agent at 29 years old and could have several batting titles under his belt, setting him up for a huge contract.
Springer (after 2020) and Correa (after 2021) have a while to go before becoming free agents, but that doesn't mean the Astros won't try to get something done with them sooner than later. If I had to guess, among those four players, they're able to re-sign two or three of them.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.