May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder Delino DeShields Jr. (7) slides safely into home plate pas Houston Astros catcher Hank Conger (16) during the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
It’s Monday, May 4th. Known as Star Wars day to some (May the fourth be with you, incidentally – unless you’re, like me, from the UK, in which case, the fourth of May be with you), while Astros fans might want to think of it as first place day.
Yep, the Astros–the Houston Astros–are in first place in the American League West. If not for a fourteenth inning victory for the St Louis Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Astros would be the proud owners of the joint-best record in all of Major League Baseball.
They remain first overall despite this evening’s loss to the Texas Rangers.
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The 8-5 home record, still hugely impressive given recent struggles, contrasts with the 10-2 road record that is the best in baseball (the Yankees are 10-3 at the time of writing). The Astros are an incredible seven games clear of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and rode a ten game win streak the likes of which relative newcomers to the city of Houston have never seen.
They will complete a three-game series against the 8-16 Texas Rangers, before moving straight on to Anaheim to face the Angels in a four-game series. The streak may have snapped, but the Astros have, in the midst of a long streak of consecutive games, the opportunity to start a new streak. Therein lies the greatest challenge/opportunity facing the Astros at this early juncture of the season: the test of resilience.
It is often said that you learn more from defeat than victory. Despite the loss, the Astros are atop the crest of a wave. Jake Marisnick is pushing .400 with his batting average. Jose Altuve, ever-present this season, is hitting .360 and there was palpable disappointment that he couldn’t maintain his nine-game multi-hit streak. Again, multi-hit streak, not hit-streak. The team hasn’t seemed to suffer too badly from Jed Lowrie hitting the disabled list with a thumb injury as of yet. Even Chris Carter, who had endured a slow start to the season that still sees his average at .159 (it flirted with .180 during the road trip whilst in San Diego), has hit home runs in two of his last five games, including a blast at the notorious Petco Park.
The questions is, of course, what will happen when the Astros, as much as we would love them to end up 154-8, start to lose games. Perhaps even get swept in a series. These things can happen in midst of the grueling baseball season. The Astros are not a particularly old team, with only ten players currently over the age of thirty, and of those, only Lowrie is not a pitcher. Particular focus will be on Marisnick and Altuve, the offensive leaders of this team at the moment. Marisnick is twenty-four, while Altuve only a year older (though it’s Jose’s birthday this Wednesday!). At what point are they going to go through a dry spell and how will they respond?
These are all tests that the very best in sports pass, but not without struggles. Now that the Astros need to recapture form, as a team, do they have the mental toughness to pass?