The Astros completed the first half of their 162-game season last Friday with a record of 35-46 putting them on a pace for 70-92, an improvement of 19 games over the 51-111 record last year. The improvement can be largely attributed to much better starting pitching, a spectacular season from Jose Altuve and the arrival of prospects, George Springer and Jon Singleton from the minor leagues.
Altuve had an exceptional month in June, batting .411 with an on-base percentage of .447 and a slugging average of .495. He stole 17 bases and struck out only 4 times and leads the American league in batting average, stolen bases and hits at the midway point. Dexter Fowler, now on the disabled list with a rib cage strain, also had an excellent month in June batting .307 with an on-base percentage of .377. Unfortunately, Altuve and Fowler are the only Astro regulars with batting averages over .250 for the season.
The prospects acquired by former General Manager, Ed Wade, notably Springer, Singleton and pitcher Jarred Cosart, are making their presence felt and another, Domingo Santana, a slugging outfielder, is joining the team for the second half of the season. To take the next step, a wave of prospects from the Jeff Luhnow era will be needed.
The Astros still have some glaring weaknesses at the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen. Releasing J. D. Martinez appears to have been a mistake as he has played very well after being picked up by Detroit while left field has been a black hole for the Astros (that hopefully Santana will fill). The bullpen has been hurt by lengthy injury downtimes by pitchers Jesse Crain, Matt Albers and Anthony Bass. If they can return for most of the second half, the Astros may be able to hold their own.
For the season, Astro starting pitchers have an ERA of 3.78 compared to the major league average of 3.90. However, the relief pitchers have an ERA of 4.83 compared to the major league average of 3.58, a difference of over one run per game.
A cover story in Sports Illustrated in June with a headline that suggested the Astros as 2017 World Champions, received a great deal of attention. It was largely pitched to highlight the analytical approach taken by Luhnow and his staff. This would appear to be premature since the results are not yet evident.
June was not a good month in the minor leagues for the Astros. Oklahoma City (AAA) and Lancaster (Class A+) still have winning records but have slipped back. Corpus Christi (AA) and Quad Cities (Class A-) had disappointing months and dropped back in their races. The three short-season clubs that began play after the recent first-year player draft are off to so-so starts. However, the biggest blow was the broken leg suffered by top prospect, Carlos Correa, which ended his season and may delay his development. He was having an outstanding season at Lancaster.
The second half of the season should be interesting to determine if the Astros can build on their modest success in the first half and also to see if it results in growth in the fan base. In my blueprint for the future after the 2012 season, I projected the Astros to be “respectable” in 2014 with 70-80 wins. After a significant setback in 2013, this now seems to be a reasonable projection.
This post was written by Bill Gilbert. To have your work posted at Climbing Tal’s Hill, e-mail us at c[email protected]
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