Astros threatening to make a mockery of the AL West race
The Houston Astros have been the best team in baseball over the season’s first six weeks, already threatening to make a mockery of the AL West Division race.
The rampaging Houston Astros are threatening to make a mockery of the American League West Division race, and we’re only six weeks into the 2017 Major League Baseball regular season.
The Astros have jumped out to a 25-11 record through the games of Friday, May 13. That is the best record in baseball, and leaves the club eight games in front of their nearest divisional rivals.
Since their Saturday afternoon matchup with the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium was rained out, Houston will take that mark into a makeup day-night doubleheader on Sunday.
Part of the equation in building such a huge lead has been that their chief expected challenger for the AL West crown, the in-state rival Texas Rangers, have been decimated by key injuries.
However, that takes nothing away from what Houston has been able to accomplish of their own accord. With 173 runs scored, the Astros are third in the American League. The cumulative pitching staff batting average against is just .226, the best mark in all of baseball.
TOP OF THE ROTATION A TOUGH 1-2 COMBO
McCullers’ comments came after the righty had tossed six shutout innings to help Houston to a 5-1 victory over the Bronx Bombers on Friday night. New York had entered that game tied with the Astros and the Baltimore Orioles with 11 losses, fewest in MLB to this point.
The 1-2 punch at the top of the starting pitching rotation has been a leading reason for Houston’s dominance. McCullers is 3-1 with a 2.92 FIP, 1.117 WHIP and 57/13 K:BB ratio over 48.1 innings. And the 23-year-old hasn’t even been the Astros’ top starter.
That distinction goes to 29-year-old Dallas Keuchel. The lefty was the American League’s Pitcher of the Month for April. Keuchel is 6-0 with a 1.69 ERA, 0.869 WHIP and has a 50/17 K:BB ratio. He has yielded just 37 hits over his first 58.2 innings.
ASTROS VERSATILE OFFENSIVE ATTACK
The Houston offensive attack is extremely versatile and deep, led by an AL All-Star in three of the last five years. With three straight Silver Sluggers in his trophy case, second baseman Jose Altuve is off to another strong start. Altuve is hitting .298 with a .367 on-base percentage. His nine steals lead the club. His 21 runs scored are tied for the team lead.
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Talented 22-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa also has scored 21 times. His 20 RBI are second on the team, and his 15 extra-base hits lead all Astros hitters.
Center fielder George Springer has 21 runs scored as well. His seven home runs are tops in the lineup, and his 20 RBI leave him tied for second with Correa.
Veteran catcher Brian McCann was a big offseason trade acquisition from those Yankees. The seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger winner is proving that he is still a threat at 33 years of age. McCann has a .381 on-base percentage. He is third on the club with a half-dozen homers and leads Houston with 21 RBI.
Josh Reddick signed a four-year, $52 million free agent contract this past offseason. The 30-year-old right fielder has hit for a .291 average. Reddick has produced 10 extra-base hits, 18 runs scored and 16 RBI.
IMPORTANT BENCH PIECE
23-year-old third baseman Alex Bregman got off to a cold start to the season. But since April 11, Bregman is hitting .293 with a .383 on-base percentage. However, the youngster has yet to prove that he can deliver any pop from the hot corner. Bregman is still searching for his first home run of the year.
Bregman and high-profile Cuban signee Yuli Gurriel have been producing modest numbers at the corner infield positions.
Into the breach has stepped Marwin Gonzalez, providing tremendous versatility and unexpected offensive production. Gonzalez leads the Astros with nine home runs. His 21 RBI have him tied for the club lead with McCann. On defense, he has stepped in at five different positions.
“I can pinch-hit for anybody because I have Gonzalez,” manager A.J. Hinch said, per John Perrotto of FanRag Sports. “If Carlos Beltran‘s on the bench and Marwin is on the bench, I can hit Beltran whenever I want because Marwin can cover. He can cover center, right, left, all infield positions.”
SOME BULLPEN INCONSISTENCY
Meanwhile, closer Ken Giles, setup man Luke Gregerson and top lefty Tony Sipp have been the most inconsistent pieces to that bullpen mix. If they can become more consistent, Houston may never be challenged in the division all season long.
In their just-released new top 100 prospects ranking, Baseball America placed five Houston youngsters among the top 67 on their list. With four starting position players, three starting pitchers and four members of the pen all in their 20s, the Astros figure to remain contenders for a long time to come.
Everything is going right so far for the Houston Astros in the 2017 season. Every team hits some bumps in the road over a long 162-game season. But if Houston doesn’t start hitting a couple real soon, they may make even more of a mockery out of the AL West race than it has already become.