It's Saturday night. The Houston Astros are up 7-6 over the New York Yankees. It’s the top of the ninth inning. There are two outs. Ken Giles is in trying to nail down the final out. Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner singles to the gap in left center field. Josh Reddick rushes to the ball and makes the throw in to Carlos Correa. Correa skies high, gloves the ball, lands, leaps and fires a shot to first base.
Gardner rounds first base too far. He looks as if he’s going to try for second, but he sees the throw coming in and attempts to get back to first. But Correa makes the perfect throw to Yuli Gurriel, who applies the tag to a diving Gardner. Game over.
In a possible American League playoff matchup, the Astros won two of three games against the Yankees, playing before a loud and packed Minute Maid Park crowd. The Astros beat up on a Yankee bullpen thought to be one of the best in the majors on Saturday night — Gurriel closed out a four-run eighth inning for the Astros on hitting a blazing Aroldis Chapman fastball for a two-run double — as the Astros overcame a 6-3 deficit to win. The Astros also roughed up Yankee starter Luis Severino on Sunday en route to an 8-1 win in the rubber match.
To label the weekend wins over New York as impressive would be to do a disservice to the word impressive. That’s just how good the Astros have been this season. At this point sports writers are running out of adjectives with which to describe them.
The Astros, at 56-27, have the best record in all of Major League baseball. They're up 14.5 games on the next-best A.L. West club, and have maintained a dominant lead in the division despite losing pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton to injury recently. Collin McHugh has yet to pitch for the club this season, and the team has had to depend on Mike Fiers, who was on the verge of being sent to the bullpen because of ineffectiveness, to be the team’s staff ace.
I have long argued that the 1998 Astros were the best squad in team history. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were in their primes. Moises Alou and Carl Everett were hitting machines. The pitching staff for the last several months was Randy Johnson, Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima. That argument is no longer valid. Not when compared to a team featuring three guys who were voted into the A.L. All Star team starting lineup (George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa) and in which two of the starting pitchers will be on that All Star roster (Keuchel and McCullers).
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There cannot be any dispute that this is the best Astros team in history. Not only do the Astros have the best team batting average in the league, but George Springer has hit 24 leadoff homers. Carlos Correa has 17 homers and 58 RBI while batting cleanup. Jose Altuve, last year's batting champion, has 11 homers and 40 RBI while hitting .326. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel have ten home runs each. There are just no easy outs — which explains why the Astros have scored 117 more runs than their opponents.
There are still issues. The starting rotation is a mess because of injuries. The bullpen has been taxed owing to the injuries of the starters. And it’s probably fair to ask if the Astros can maintain this blistering pace. But maybe the question can instead be asked, is this team only going to get better? That does make sense, after all. Just think about what these Astros can do if the hitters keep piling up runs as Keuchel, Morton and McHugh return to the rotation.
It was difficult to find a fan of the Astros after Jim Crane became owner. The team was bad, the big names had been traded, most of the city couldn’t see the games on television. That’s what has to make this current squad feel so special for those fans who did stick around, who still went to the ballpark, who found ways to watch the Astros on TV. Those Astros were so bad. These Astros are so good.
This is a fun baseball team playing a fun brand of baseball, and it’s just getting better.