The Houston Astros are in first place. Let that sink in. Pop a bottle of your favorite bubbly if you’re old enough. With their 11-7 record, the team holds a 2.5 game lead over the Angels in the AL West, with the A’s, Mariners and Rangers all sitting four games back. Currently riding a three-game win streak, and victors in seven of their last eight, the Astros travel to San Diego to take on the rebuilt Padres in what should be a good early test for the surging ‘Stros. Regardless of how the series ends, the Astros have clinched at least a .500 record for the month of April, a month that did not excite many on paper.
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But how have they accumulated those eleven wins? It’s the offense right? With mashers George Springer, Chris Carter and Evan Gattis in the middle of the order, their offense is just outscoring opponents, yeah? Not at all. Jose Altuve has just as many home runs (two) as Springer, which is one more than either Gattis or Carter. Luis Valbuena has carried the load with the lumber early, blasting five out of various facilities around baseball, while Jed Lowrie has added three of his own. Altuve also leads the team in rbi with eleven, followed by Lowrie (9), the impressive Jake Marisnick (8) and Valbuena’s seven. Houston has scored just 70 runs as a team, which is in middle of the pack in baseball, yet still good for 3.88 runs per game.
So let’s get this straight. The Astros big power hitters aren’t carrying the team, and they aren’t scoring a gaudy amount of runs? What is going on then? It’s simple: pitching.
While it’s still early, Dallas Keuchel (2-0, 0.62) and Collin McHugh (3-0, 2.41) look to have picked up right where they left off this season. Add in Roberto Hernandez (0-2, 3.57) who has pitched better than his record indicates and Scott Feldman (2-2, 4.81) whose ERA is still being inflated by one rough start against Oakland, and you have a pretty decent rotation. Asher Wojciechowski has yet to record an out in the fifth inning, so when Brett Oberholtzer returns Wojo may be the odd-man out in the rotation.
As a team, Houston holds a 3.18 ERA, which is second to Kansas City in the American League and fifth in baseball. A much improved bullpen is a big reason for such a jump in performance. Houston ranked 25th in baseball last season with a 4.11 ERA. Newcomers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson received most of the attention when they signed this off-season, but Neshek has the worst reliever’s ERA on the team at 5.87. While it’s too early to be concerned about his performance, he has allowed three of the bullpen’s four home runs this season.
Waiver claim Will Harris has been the Houston Astros most effective pitcher this season, going nine innings of scoreless ball while only allowing two hits and recording ten strikeouts. He has walked four, but thus far no harm, no foul. The bullpen holds an ERA of 2.40 (4th) on the season and is receiving contributions from nearly everyone. Having Josh Fields in the bullpen should help keep everyone’s arms fresh in the coming days, until another roster move is made to bring up another bat–presumably Jon Singleton, although that’s just a guess.
So how are the Houston Astros winning? Right now, it’s because they are receiving quality innings from every arm on their staff. Whether or not this trend holds remains to be seen, but at some point the big bats are going to wake up. Springer (.188), Gattis (.156) and Carter (.150) will start finding the holes in the defense, and occasionally the seats in the Crawford Boxes, but as of right now their lumber isn’t necessarily needed and that is refreshing.
It’s a good time to be an Astros fan–and the fun is just getting started.