July 21, 2017

Astros Fly High in May

June 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Houston Astros occupied uncharted territory in May winning 22 games while losing only 7.  They started the month in first place in the AL West Division, 3 games ahead of the second place Los Angeles Angels and steadily increased their lead to finish the month 11 games ahead of the second place Texas Rangers.  With a record of 38-16 at the end of May, they have won 5 more games than any other major league team.

There were many highlights in May including taking 3 games out of 4 from the Rangers, Yankees and Detroit Tigers, series sweeps against Atlanta, Miami, Baltimore and Minnesota and a comeback against the Twins from an 8-2 deficit in the 8th inning for a 16-8 win .  The only stumble was a 3-game sweep by Cleveland at Minute Maid Park to start a 10 game home stand.  However, the Astros quickly recovered to complete the home stand by winning 6 of the remaining 7 games and finished off the month by winning their last 7 games.  In the month-ending series against Minnesota, the Astros scored a team record 40 runs in the 3-game series and finished the final game with 5 hitters in the starting lineup with slugging averages of .500 or better.

Building a lead this big so early in the season is quite unusual.  A lead of 11 games would be much more secure if it were at the end of July, not the end of May.  Astro fans that have been around as long as I have  may remember July 4, 1979 when the Astros, in search of their first playoff appearance, held an 11 ½ game lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League West Division.  However, when it was all over, the Reds came out on top by 1 ½ games.

How did the Astros get to such a lofty position?  The best answer is a consolidated team effort.  No Astro players are currently leading at their position in the All-Star Game voting (although some should be).  Individually, few Astro players are found among the league leaders but the team is 1st or 2nd in the majors in most offensive categories:

Category MLB Rank Comment
Batting Average .277 1
On Base Percentage .345 T1 Tied with Washington
Slugging  .466 2 First in AL
 OPS .811 2 First in AL
Runs 292 1
Home Runs  82 2 Behind Tampa Bay

While the offense was slightly below expectations in April averaging 4.48 runs per game, the team more than made up for it in May with 6.21 runs per game and a .500 slugging average.  The entire lineup was productive in May led by Carlos Correa (.386, .457, and .673), 7 home runs and 26 RBIs and Marwin Gonzales (.382, .461, and .737) with 7 home runs and 22 RBIs.

Another significant change in the Astros’ offense is the reduction in batters striking out.  For the last several years, the Astros have been among the leaders in striking out but in 2017, only the Red Sox have struck out less than the Astros.  Meanwhile, Astros pitchers lead the major leagues in striking out opposing batters.

The pitching has remained strong despite losing three members of the five man starting rotation to the disabled list in May.  Two of them, Charlie Morton and Joe Musgrove are still out.  Dallas Keuchel was disabled because of a sore neck but only missed one start.  Keuchel and Lance McCullers give the Astros a strong top of the rotation and the Club has won 18 of the 21 games they have started.

The starters ERA of 3.52 is the best in the American League and second only to the Cardinals in the majors and the relievers ERA of 3.44 ranks 7th in MLB.  However, the starting rotation is thin and needs to be reinforced with another front line starter for the long haul.

The month of June begins with a series against the Texas Rangers, just as the month of May did.  This time the games are in Arlington and will be followed later in the month by a 3-game series between the two teams in Houston.  The Red Sox and Yankees will also appear in Houston in June.

At this point, the Astros are being widely acclaimed as the best team in baseball for the first time in their 56 year history.  Will it last?  The offense should remain strong but it is not realistic to expect it to remain at the level achieved in May.  The pitching is highly dependent on the continued health and success of Keuchel and McCullers.  The first two months have been great for the Astros but there is a lot of baseball yet to be played.

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