Sorry, 2017 Cubs, the 2018 Astros can’t relate through 99 games with the World Series hangover.
After losing to the Detroit Tigers 6-3, the Astros drop to 64-35 on the season. Forget that Justin Verlander had his worst start in nearly a decade homer-wise. This team is pretty good. There were probably some mixed emotions for the long-time Tiger to face his former club for the first time. Verlander gave up six runs on four homers to the 41-57 Tigers. But if anyone deserves some slack from an off day, it’s Verlander.
The Astros don’t even have the best record in the American League. They are third behind the Red Sox (68-30) and the Yankees (62-33). But the can claim something that those other two teams can’t, they a the reigning World Series champs. Yes, the Yankees have blah, blah rings and the Red Sox have broken the curse, yadda, yadda. But the Astros went through both teams last year in route to winning it all.
People kept on telling Astros fans this offseason, “you better watch out for the World Series hangover.” It was probably a topic in the Astros locker room, but this team had a chance to be better than last year. They believed in themselves and that they could only get better. The 2017 Astros did not go out and get a bunch of rentals to play big roles. Instead, they waited out and got Verlander just in the nick of time.
They added this offseason, and the Dodgers didn’t.
With the core of the WS champs returning, the Astros went out and added a few pieces. They brought in Gerrit Cole, Hector Rondon, and Joe Smith. They did trade Joe Musgrove, who was a key weapon out of the bullpen last year, but they replaced him with Rondon. They didn’t need Cole with Collin McHugh on the roster, but that made the rotation deeper. The bullpen has not been as taxed this year with the rotation going deep into games.
The Astros have dealt with injuries this year, most notably Carlos Correa and Brian McCann. However, they have the talents to fill those holes as they appear. The McCann injury has hurt the team a little and could lead to a trade before the July 31st trade deadline. Don’t forget about the Ken Giles situation, which is still up in the air with him in Triple-A.
Despite all this, the Astros have a 64-35 record at the All-Star break, which is the best record of the last nine defending World Series champs. If you look at Brian McTaggart’s tweet above, the 2010 Yankees have the next best record at 56-32. That Yankees team lost to the Texas Rangers 4-2 in the ALCS. The Giants became synonymous for having a World Series hangover, winning only in the even years. Most of the teams were around or below .500 the next year, but not the Astros.
What about the Astros run-differential?
Remember when Dallas Keuchel proclaimed that we are not the Cubs, we are much better. This wasn’t just smack talk. The team really believed that they would win again. Well, they have responded with one of the best-run differentials through 99 games in MLB history. Take a look at the chart below. Where does the 2018 Astros +188 run differential fit in?
One of the CTH readers on Facebook asked how the Astros run differential compared to past teams. Better late than never. This table came from the teams listed on an Att Sports Net graphic, with the updated data after 99 games via Baseball-Reference. The Astros are now second all-time in run differential after 99 games.
If you were curious, the 2017 Cubs had a +26 run differential through 99 games last year. The 2018 Red Sox have a +163 run differential this year while the Yankees are at +131. This shows how dominating these three teams are. The Houston pitching staff has allowed the fewest runs in baseball (312) while scoring the second most (500). That’s a balanced team.
It’s too early to say that the Astros will win back to back World Series, but they are still the favorites. J.D. Martinez has added so much to the Red Sox’s lineup. They are the Astros biggest barriers to winning the American League. The Astros are sending six All-Stars to Washington DC. As of right now, it doesn’t appear to be a World Series hangover for the Astros.