Astros Show Some Life in Late May
After treading water for most of May with a 10-11 record, The Houston Astros came to life by winning 7 of 8 games for the rest of the month. The streak was kicked off by a 3-game sweep in Houston against the Baltimore Orioles when the Astro pitchers struck out a record 52 batters in a 3-game series. The turnaround coincided with the movement of George Springer to the leadoff position on May 24 where he has performed extremely well. The surge still has the Astros looking up at the rest of the Division, especially the Texas Rangers who have swept all six games with the Astros this year and are 7.5 games ahead of them.
Offensively, the team made some improvement in May but the season batting average is only .236 which ranks 24th among the 30 major league clubs. The Astros rank 8th in home runs and third in stolen bases but lead the majors in striking out with an average of 9.77 per game, even without Chris Carter. The Astros scored 4.6 runs per game in May, a significant improvement over 3.5 in April.
Pitching improved significantly with an ERA of 3.81 in May versus 4.97 in April. Opposing teams scored an average of 4.2 runs per game in May. Astro pitchers struck out 267 batters in the month, ranking third in the major leagues.
Individually, several players had good months. Jose Altuve batted .345 and continues to lead the major leagues in stolen bases. Springer batted .296 and both he and Altuve had on-base percentages over .400 and slugging averages over .500 as did Jason Castro who had his best month in over two years. Luis Valbuena’s power returned as he batted .259 with six home runs, second only to Springer’s eight. Unfortunately, none of the other position players batted over .240 including Carlos Correa at .239 and Colby Rasmus at .194. Carlos Gomez continues to have problems, batting only .136 before going on the disabled list with a rib injury.
Doug Fister was the team’s best starting pitcher in May as the Astros won all six of the games he started and he, along with Collin McHugh and rookie reliever Michael Feliz each posted three wins. After performing poorly in April, Feliz recorded 26 strikeouts and only one walk in his 16 2/3 innings in May. He could be considered for a spot in the starting rotation later in the season. Luke Gregerson recorded nine saves in May but he whiffed on three other opportunities. Will Harris did not allow a run in his thirteen relief appearances. Of the 14 pitchers used by the Astros in May, Dallas Keuchel had the worst ERA at 6.63, but he did have a good outing in his final start of the month.
In 2015, the Astros organization had an exceptional minor league season with their teams having the best overall record in the minor leagues while several of their players emerged as top prospects. However, it is not happening in 2016. Of the four full-season minor league clubs, only Class Double-A Corpus Christi has a winning record and the overall record is 99-104. A number of their most promising players are having disappointing seasons and eleven prospects were lost last year in the disappointing trades for Scott Kazmir, Gomez and Ken Giles. The three domestic short season farm clubs will start up in June and will be staffed largely with players obtained in the upcoming amateur draft.
The Astros can still get into contention if they continue to play the way they finished the month of May. The key in June will be the 4-game series with the Rangers in Arlington beginning June 6.