The wind of momentum is with the Houston Astros right now, and they’re sailing very well through the May baseball season.
The Astros come in this week arguably the hottest team in baseball, with perhaps the exception of the Chicago White Sox. The Astros have won 11 of their last 16 games, went 8-2 on a 10-game homestand, and go on the road winners of 6 straight games.
The Astros now see themselves 0.5 game out of first place in the AL West as they go visit the Oakland A’s in the Coliseum this week before coming back to Texas to play the JV Texas Rangers in Arlington. I don’t blame Mike Fiers at all for dodging the Astros yet again – this Houston team looks terrific right now.
The Astros bats have been white hot as of late. Houston is the at the top of most major team categories over the last 15 days – #1 in OPS (.857), #1 in BA (.294), #1 in slugging (.492), 2nd in Homers (21) and 5th in doubles (23). This certainly all helps when you play 10 straight games against non-elite pitching staffs at home, but still gotta go out there and hit the ball against professionals. And the Astros have been doing just that — everyone from Jose Altuve to Chaz McCormick has been chipping in over the past 15 games.
For all the doom and gloom us fans give the bullpen, the Astros pitching has been pretty good of late. the Astros pitching is 11th in ERA (3.76), 8th in WHIP (1.17), 10th in BA (.224), 17th in Home runs (16). It gets more encouraging when you look at the bullpen – The Astros remain 11th in ERA and 7th in WHIP when you look at performance after the sixth inning.
These stats match what we’re seeing with our eyes — Ryan Presley has been dominate , Ryne Stanek has been really good, Brooks Raley and Joe Smith appear to be turning a corner, and reinforcements are coming in form of Jake Odorizzi, Framber Valdez and (hopefully) Pedro Baez.
Yordan Alvarez/Kyle Tucker
Everyone has been hot for the Astros, but the two youngest players in the lineup I’ve been on fire.
Yordan Alvarez is hitting .400 in the last 15 games with an OPS of 1.077 to go along with five home runs and ten RBI’s. During that time he’s first in MLB in batting average, and 11th and OPS. Alvarez is looking more and more like a Barry Bonds/David Ortiz level hitter — a pure power hitter with the ability to go on streaks of invincibility. (This is also a friendly reminder that MLB.com didn’t even put Alvarez in their top 100 player list — one of the biggest oversights I’ve ever seen)
Kyle Tucker looked absolutely lost at the plate for most of April, it had some fans like myself worried that he might be in elongated slump. But Tucker has turned it all around, seemingly because of one at bat against the Blue Jays back on May 9th. In that game, Kyle Tucker took an aggressive swing on a 3-0 fastball up the middle and crushed it into the stands at Minute Maid Park. Since that massive home run, Tucker has been on an absolute tear – hitting .480 with 4 HRs, 11 RBIs with an OPS of 1.682 in past 8 games. The baseball looks as big as a watermelon to him right now, and he’s smashing fruit all over the field like he’s Gallagher. (Gallagher. Like the Comedian?… He this comedian in the 70s that used to smash watermelons for his set – forget it).
With these two guys are crushing the ball, it’s hard to see the Astros losing much. And these two future All-Stars are signaling to the rest of the baseball world that Astros aren’t going away anytime soon.
Lance McCullers is showing signs that might be fully back from his 2019 Tommy John surgery. The right hander is 2-0 in his last 4 games with a 1.33 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP to go along with 31 strikeouts and 9 walks. During this span he is 4th in the AL in ERA, 7th in WHIP, 9th in OPP BA and 3rd in strike outs – trailing only Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber.
No one has figured out his slider (.080 BA) this season and McCullers’ best pitch, his curveball, is generating a 38.7% whiff rate and a 31% put away rate – very impressive stuff. McCullers has also adjusted his situational pitch tendencies to throw off batters. In seasons prior to 2021, McCullers would use his curveball 55% of the time – and good hitters could sit on that pitch. This year, McCullers is only using that pitch 18% of the time when he’s ahead of the count, now relying on his sinker (33%) and other pitches. Being less predictable forces hitter to guess on pitches more often, which of course leads to more strikeouts and even more “soft outs”.
If you look at his season thus far, Lance McCullers is in the top 10 in most major pitching categories despite getting nowhere near the national media coverage as other elite pitchers. If he continues this streak of great outings, he’ll hopefully start getting the national respect he deserves.
The Astros are clicking on all cylinders, but the one guy who hasn’t beem crushing the ball is our guy Carlos Correa. Correa has been terrific (as always) with his defense and leadership, but his bat has been cold over the past couple of weeks.
He’s only hitting .200 over the past 15 games with an OPS of .650 and only 2 home runs to his name. Correa has not found the barrel very much this year (less than 7%) and guys are just not throwing him as many fastballs as they used to. Correa is still struggling with those pesky off-speed pitches (.100 BA) and has been pulling the ball much less than in prior years. The bright side to all this is that Correa has been striking out less than in the prior two years, so there could be an element of bad luck involved.
But we all know Carlos Correa is a guy who can get hot in a hurry (remember the ALDS and ALCS last year?) He had a nice home run against the Rangers on Saturday and continues to drop his strikeout rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the next “hot” hitter for the Astros over the next two weeks.
This is a tough one because most of the pitching staff over the past two weeks I’ve been either good or, at a minimum, average. Brandon Bielak has been – meh.
Bielak has posted a 8.44 ERA over his last 3 appearances (5.1 IP) with only 3 SO with 3 walks to show for it. He’s not giving up a ton of damage as far as homeruns or big base hits, but he’s leaving a lot more to be desired what is showing on the mound.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
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- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
After his hot start last year as a starter, Bielak has really cooled off. This year has been very up-and-down for Bielak in a primary relief role. Opposing hitters are slamming the ball off him (he’s in the 98th percentile in opposing hitter exit velocity). Although he has only given up 1 Home Run, Bielak just doesn’t get very many strikeouts or easy outs for himself. Bielak needs to utilize his changeup more (generates a 43% whiff and 24% put away rate with that pitch) to be more effective, but that requires him getting ahead of the count more often – something he simply hasn’t done this season.
Brandon Bielak is scuffling to find his groove and needs to find it fast. With some key guys set to return back off the IL, Bielak needs to show us more if he wants to be on the roster long term.