This past Sunday, George Springer stepped to the plate leading off the game and slammed a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall to give the Houston Astros an early lead. The home run was Springer’s sixth lead-off shot and 15th overall on the season. He added another blast in the fourth.
Houston won the game, defeating the Texas Rangers and notched another victory on Monday, topping the Kansas City Royals. With that, the Astros’ winning streak was extended to 11 games, and it included sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins and Rangers.
Despite a pair of setbacks the last two nights, the Astros lead baseball with a 42-18 record and sit atop nearly every Power Ranking. The squad is nearly as difficult to beat on the road as at home.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Astros have six players that have already accumulated at least a 1.7 rWAR, just a week into the season’s third month. Dallas Keuchel tops the list at 3.1.
Houston was supposed to be good in 2017, but it was the starting pitching that was the limit to just how good. Keuchel had a troublesome 2016, but has shown he’s back to being every bit the pitcher that won the Cy Young Award in 2015. He’s 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 0.872 WHIP, the Astros have lost just one of his 11 starts, and he’s averaging nearly seven innings per start.
Meanwhile, No. 2 starter Lance McCullers Jr. has gone 6-1 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.105 WHIP. The 23-year-old pitched to a 3.22 ERA each of the last two years but has taken a step forward in 2017. His effectiveness was never a question, but health had been an issue. For now, he is teaming with Keuchel to form the best one-two punch in baseball.
Injuries to Charlie Morton and Joe Musgrove have hurt the rotation. But, with such strength at the top, great effectiveness hasn’t been needed after the studs at the top.
The Astros are second in baseball—and first in the AL—with a 3.43 ERA. They’re also second in starter’s ERA at 3.49. Pull out Keuchel and McCullers and the ERA jumps nearly half a run. Of course, with baseball’s best offense and a deep bullpen, four runs per game still gets the job done. The deep bullpen has been a big part of the team’s success.
Ken Giles has locked down 15 saves and Chris Devenski has done his best Andrew Miller impression. Michael Feliz and Will Harris are dealing. Even Brad Peacock is throwing the ball well, sliding into the rotation after some quality bullpen performances.
The pitching is the best in the American League, but the offense gets most of the publicity, and rightly so.
Save for Nori Aoki, this team is loaded with star power. Marwin Gonzalez, Evan Gattis and Jake Marisnick provide a talented and versatile bench. The three give manager A.J. Hinch more than enough weapons to use while keeping the starters fresh. All three bench players have an OPS+ of at least 117, while Gonzalez is second on the team in home runs with 12 and is batting .314.
Power, speed and defense—the Astros have it all. Everyone on this team gets on base more than 30 percent of the time. Anyone, outside of Aoki, can hit one out of the park at any time.
The team is also an excellent blend of youth and experience. Additions like Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran have given the team a steady, veteran hand that’s helped it avoid any lulls so far. Young, exciting talent like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman have provided the youthful spark of excitement.
Right now, the Astros are a give me in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests. They’re the best team in baseball and their run differential of +106 supports the expectations of continued success.
Injuries and slumps impact all teams throughout the course of a 162-game season. Houston is no exception, but the Astros are built to withstand such things better than most. They’re deeper. And, as they have proven during their recent winning streak, they often are unbeatable.