Astros: First Half Thoughts

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Jun 15, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) celebrates with second baseman Jose Altuve (27) after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Astros won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) celebrates with second baseman Jose Altuve (27) after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Astros won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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The first half of the season for the Astros have been a mixed bag of results.

Sure, the Astros now find themselves just five-and-a-half games out of first place in the AL West. It wasn’t that long ago that this same team was ten games behind the Texas Rangers for the division lead.

The first six or so weeks of the season were downright disappointing. At one point, the Astros had a 17-28 record and looked like there were done for before the summer even started.

But that isn’t the case now as the Astros exit the All-Star break with a slightly better-winning percentage when compared to 2015.

Just imagine the record if the Astros were at least somewhat respectable against the Rangers? Yeah, hopefully, the second half is much kinder to the Astros in that regard.

Looking back, it is easy to see why the Astros struggled out of the gate in the first half. Last year’s stellar pitching staff hasn’t lived up to expectations. Dallas Keuchel for basically the first two months looked very much unlike a 2015 Cy Young winner. Sure, it was always unrealistic to expect Keuchel to be as good as he was last season. But no one was necessarily expecting the struggles that he went through to start the season.

The ineffectiveness of Collin McHugh and the absence of Lance McCullers also makes it easy to see why the starting rotation was a negative factor on the Astros. And despite picking up a young hard-thrower in Ken Giles and retaining lefty Tony Sipp, the Astros bullpen took a big step back. Well, unless your name was Will Harris. Luke Gregerson suddenly became shaky in the ninth inning, and Giles couldn’t pitch an inning without giving up a couple of big hits. Sipp, the sometimes best Astros reliever the past two seasons, has suddenly become hittable. Very hittable.

Then the offense sputtered. And did they sputtered often?

At one point, Jose Altuve was the only consistent force in the lineup. George Springer eventually joined the act as well. But the Astros offense struggled numerous times during that horrendous April.

However, there were plenty of positives in the first half of the season.

For one, the Astros have remarkably rebounded to put themselves in the thick of things in the playoff chase. If you follow Baseball-Reference and their Pythagorean record, the Astros are exactly where they are projected to be with a 48-41 record.

From a pitching standpoint, the Astros have seen their fortunes change for the better. The likes of Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, and Scott Feldman have fortified the bullpen. While Gregerson and Giles have shown flashes of improvement, both pitchers haven’t been quite the elite relievers that the Astros were hoping for in early April. But Harris has been the steady force in the bullpen that has kept it from completely imploding.

The offense has also seen their production levels skyrocket over the past six weeks.

Springer has transformed this Astros’ offense for the better since his move to the leadoff spot in the lineup. Altuve is one of the early favorites for the AL MVP award. Carlos Correa has been fantastic throughout the months of June and July. Even Luis Valbuena, Carlos Gomez, and Evan Gattis have been productive members of the lineup in spite of their earlier struggles.

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We have also witnessed Tyler White experiencing some success at the major league level before his decline. If he adjusts in the minors, then the Astros have one more bat that could provide a lift in the second half. And A.J. Reed got his first taste of Major League baseball after much anticipation from the Astros fanbase. While his debut hasn’t gone as smooth as everyone would’ve liked, the young Astro is counted upon to be one of the future cornerstones of this franchise.

And don’t even mention the possibility of Alex Bregman in an Astros uniform during the second half. The Astros universe just may very well implode on itself when that happens.

The Astros though don’t seem to be imploding on the increased expectations. In fact, it appears that at least certain players are taking this time off to prepare for the second half.

Next: Astros: A Look at the Struggles of Tony Sipp in 2016

Feliz has the right idea. Now is the time to get ready for the second half, Astros fans.

**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference**

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