The Houston Astros beat the Toronto Blue Jays 19-1 on Sunday. No, that is not a typo. The Astros scored 19 runs and if manager A.J. Hinch didn’t start pulling his starters, the Astros could have scored even more. The team has won seven of its last ten games, has a record of 60-29 and is an amazing 16.5 games in front of the Los Angeles Angels, the second-place team in the A.L. West.
Thanks to the 19 runs scored yesterday, the Astros are now averaging an outstanding 7.1 runs per road game. The offense doesn’t quite perform to the same peak when in Houston, scoring only a meager 4.7 runs per game at Minute Maid Park. So it's almost a shame the Astros will be returning to Houston on Friday to face the Minnesota Twins.
Most of the team has the week off for the All-Star Break, but an astonishing six Astros are on the roster for Tuesday’s All Star Game. Never in team history have six Astros been chosen to play in the All Star Game — this is also the first time that three Astros have been selected by the fans to start in the game.
Astros fans have raved about George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa for several seasons. But it is nice to see that the rest of baseball fandom is taking notice of this team and voted them into the starting lineup instead of voting for more familiar names. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, winners of the April and May A.L. Pitchers of the Month, were also easy picks.
Then there is the fact that Springer is revolutionizing the leadoff batter role. Altuve just racks up hits. Correa is a superstar in the making. McCullers has essentially shut up everybody who thought he should be a closer, and Keuchel is Keuchel. But the revelation for Astros fans and those who picked the pitching staff is Chris Devenski, the reliever who was named to the team on Friday.
Devenski has a 6-3 record and 2.73 ERA with 74 strikeouts this season. In the Astros’ sometimes shaky bullpen, he's established himself as a middle reliever. In years past, Devenski’s role was taken by the aging, crafty veteran relying on guile because he no longer had any oomph on his fastball. But that thinking has been changing.
Devenski is not just another middle relief guy. His role resembles what Cleveland Indians lefthander Andrew Miller became known for last season. He’s the bridge guy, pitching those necessary innings between the starting pitcher and the set-up guy and closer. The thinking changed from that of using the old wily veteran for this role to going to a kid with great stuff.
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“What clubs are starting to realize is you don't want to give up on any game,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com earlier this season.
Devenski’s more than just an innings-eater. His fastball can reach the 90s and he makes use of a wicked changeup. His stuff preserves Astros leads and gives the team time to catch up when they're behind. (With the way the Astros offense works, a 5-0 fifth inning deficit can easily become a 10-5 lead by the sixth inning, so a pitcher who keeps the opponent scoreless is always an asset.)
“I don't think fear enters into his mind at all,” Luhnow said. “That's a big reason he's as good as he is. His mound presence is incredible, as is his desire to be out there and to compete every single day. He'll take the ball with the same intensity every single time regardless of the score.”
The Astros have won 60 games this season because they're a good team that has scored 144 more runs than its opponents so far. But guys like Chris Devenski have played important roles in the Astros success this season, and while it’s nice to see Springer, Altuve, Correa, Keuchel and McCullers getting lots and lots of attention, it’s a blast to see the rest of the country discovering a guy like Devenski.