With 54 games, or exactly one-third of the season, in the books, your Houston Astros are 34-20 and hold a 6-game lead of first place in the AL West over the Los Angeles Angels. With Dallas Keuchel taking the mound a little later today, I’m confident that the Astros will be 35-20 and complete their four game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles.
Things are going well with this team right now, and in this article, I want to take you through how we got to this point and how we can keep it going. I’ll make my fair share of predictions, but accompany those predictions with a solid base of analysis as well. By the way, Astros fans, if you haven’t made it out to Minute Maid Park for a game yet this year, you’re really missing out. Attendance numbers still aren’t great in Houston, and Astros fans need to change that immediately if not sooner.
Why the Astros Have Dominated the MLB Thus Far
At 34-20, the Astros have the second best winning percentage in the MLB, behind the St. Louis Cardinals. This means that they have the best winning percentage in the American League. The Astros actually have a better record on the road than they do at home, which has been the most impactful change from 2014 so far. In 2014, they carried a 32-49 record on the road, and now, they are 15-8 in opposing ballparks. But, as awesome as these records are, they don’t show the real reasons why the Astros are winning this season.
Call to the Pen
At the plate, the Astros may be second in the MLB with 493 strikeouts, but there are many more positive categories where they find themselves in the top 10. They are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the lead in home runs, with 74. Evan Gattis, Luis Valbuena, and Chris Carter have been a huge part of that power surge, combining for 34 out of those 74 home runs. Astros hitters are also scoring runs, tied for 7th with Oakland at 233 runs scored. The guys at the top of the lineup, Jose Altuve and George Springer, have been the catalysts in that department, combining for 51 out of those 233 runs. Finally, AJ Hinch has had these Astros noticeably aggressive on the basepaths, and so far, the aggressiveness has paid off. The Astros are tied for fourth in the MLB with the Chicago Cubs at 44 stolen bases. Once again the speedsters Altuve and Springer have been a major part of that success, along with Jake Marisnick contributing 10 out of the 44.
On the mound, the Astros have dominated with the starting rotation and the bullpen. Dallas Keuchel has obviously been a major part of the pitching success, but there have been many other stars as well to form a solid team effort. Astros pitchers (relievers + starters) combine for the 7th best ERA in the MLB at 3.53. Some of the catalysts behind this statistic are relievers Will Harris, Josh Fields, and Pat Neshek. The Astros are 4th in the MLB in saves with 21, and Luke Gregerson has obviously been the main factor in that category, contributing 15 of those 21 saves. Astros pitchers are 11th in strikeouts with 419, and the combination of Keuchel and Collin McHugh have been the main contributors there, combining for 118 of those strikeouts. Astros pitchers also have the lowest WHIP in the MLB at 1.13, and are tied with the Oakland Athletics for the 4th lowest opponent batting average at .237. Tony Sipp and Jake Buchanan have been major contributors in keeping the WHIP down, while Lance McCullers and Pat Neshek have kept opponent batting averages low.
Looking Ahead to the Next 54 Games
I think that it will be really tough for the Astros to put together another 34-20 in these next 54 games, as they have been very fortunate thus far with a relatively easy strength of schedule and it’s always difficult in general to keep winning at this rate. In the next 16 games (excluding the Orioles game today), the Astros will take on numbers 20-23 in the MLB in winning percentage (Blue Jays, White Sox, Mariners, Rockies). There will be opportunities to win some more games in the near future.
The most important stretch for the Astros in this next leg of the season will come between June 22-July 1 when they take on the Angels (in Los Angeles), Yankees (in Houston), and Royals (in Houston). All three of these series will be three-game series and I would like to see the Astros go 5-4 or 6-3 in this stretch for me to be comfortable with this team in a competitive playoff race. The Royals (#3), Yankees (#9), and Angels (#12) are all in the top 15 in winning percentage and are important AL teams to knock off.
In order to keep up the success, the Astros will have to rely on the main studs like Keuchel, Altuve, and Gattis, but guys like Springer, Marisnick, and McHugh will need to play up to their ability and really turn it up a notch in the stretch leading up to August 1. I have a really good feeling that we’ll see Carlos Correa in an Astros uniform before I write the article when we’re 2/3 of the way through the season.
Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mark Appel or Vincent Velasquez in the MLB either, if there are injuries within the pitching staff. Who knows if Preston Tucker will be able to keep up a batting average near .300, which is why it’s so important for Marisnick and Springer to get on base more. Jason Castro needs to get his batting average up from .222 to .240 or .250 in order to be a solid producer from behind the plate.
While I would love to see some more promotions of the top prospects in the Astros organization, I think that Jeff Luhnow can possibly afford to keep these guys developing in Fresno and Corpus Christi if some of the major leaguers turn it around. Chad Qualls is really not performing up to his capability with a 4.71 ERA, Brad Peacock hasn’t really been able to develop a rhythm, and eventually Jed Lowrie will return, and he was dominant before he got hurt. I think Roberto Hernandez will need to figure out that if he doesn’t step up, there won’t be a spot for him in Houston, and I think that it’s only a matter of time before Colin McHugh gets out of his slump. Luis Valbuena needs to realize that a .190 average isn’t acceptable, no matter how many home runs you hit. If Valbuena doesn’t get above .200 soon, I would have no problem with bringing Matt Dominguez up from AAA. Finally, if Jonathan Villar can get his fielding miscues together, I will have no problem with him playing shortstop and hitting .266 until Correa is ready.
All in all, I think this Houston Astros team is really destined for greatness. While I don’t see another 34-20 on the horizon, I don’t see this team tanking in June and July. We’ll see how it goes, as this next stretch will definitely come with some significant moving and shaking within the organization and perhaps with some trades as well. Here’s my prediction:
Astros Record Through Next 54 Games: 29-25 (Would put them at 63-45 through 108 games)
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