It's April in Houston. So most attention of sports fans is probably on how the Texans will screw up the draft next week (as opposed to the rest of the offseason when the discussion is about how the Texans will screw up getting a quarterback). The Rockets are making another playoff run as well, which means this is the one month of the year the Rockets get close to the same amount of media attention as the Texans.
But it's also the first month of baseball, and the Astros are off to a red-hot start. Here's what fans should be paying attention to.
THE ASTROS ARE IN FIRST PLACE
The bullpen has seemed to struggle at times. The offense has yet to fully click. The team has had some injury problems. Despite that all, the Astros are not only in first place with an 11-5 record, but are the only team in the AL West with a winning record. Only one major league club, the Orioles, has a better record.
The Astros should pretty much stay in this position this year. That's because the team is good and should only get better once more players come around. But the Astros also benefit from the AL West being a weak division this year. The A's are an awful team. The Angels are old and bad and saddled with some bad contracts. The Mariners have yet to play like a team that is supposed to contend with the Astros, and the Rangers have a bullpen that has imploded.
George Springer is the most important player on the Astros. It seems to be his offensive output that drives the team, and at this point in the season, he leads the team in home runs with 7, RBI with 12, runs with 12, and he has a .818 OPS. He is tied for second on the team in hits and fifth in on-base percentage. He is also currently tied for the MLB lead in home runs.
OFFENSE AS A WHOLE
The run-producing output for the Astros is riding on Springer at the moment. The team is only 13th in the majors in homers and is only 17th when it comes to RBI. But while the team struggles with scoring runs, it is fourth in batting average, tied for fourth in on-base percentage, seventh in OPS, tenth in slugging percentage and tenth in walks. The most encouraging stat is that the hitters have cut down on strikeouts and sit in 25th when it comes to total strikeouts this season.
This is all despite the fact that, besides Springer with the power stats, only Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick are the only other Astros who've really accomplished anything offensively. Altuve leads the team in average, hits, and on-base percentage, he is second in OPS, and he is third to Springer and Reddick in runs scored. Reddick is second in runs and tied for second in hits. So if the rest of the offense decides to take off — looking at you Carlos Correa (who has been injured) and Carlos Beltran (who just got his first home run of the season yesterday) — this team could put up some huge numbers.
The Astros currently have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, and that is without the currently injured Collin McHugh. The Astros starters lead MLB in wins. The staff has the fourth-best ERA in the game, and it is third in strikeouts. The Astros are fourth-best in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), and eighth in batting average against.
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Dallas Keuchel appears to be recovered from last season's injury. He has a 0.96 ERA in 28 innings with a WHIP of 0.76 and a batting average against of only .168. Lance McCullers leads the staff and is third in the league with 31 strikeouts. In yesterday’s win, he became the first AL pitcher to allow three runs or less in 23 straight home games since Pedro Martinez accomplished the act from 1999 to 2001. That 23-game streak also eclipsed the record held by former Astros pitcher and manager Larry Dierker of 22 games. And McCullers’s 2.08 ERA at home is the lowest in Minute Maid Park history.
Jim Crane is the literal owner of the Houston Astros. But it should be obvious to all that the metaphorical owner of the Astros is Angels first baseman Albert Pujols.
The Angels just left town (having lost three of four games) and Pujols did as normal in Houston; he hit a home run. Of his 593 career home runs, he has hit 54 regular season homes off of the Astros (including 29 at Minute Maid Park). So when Pujols goes into the Hall of Fame, it really should be a pitcher from the Astros who gives the introductory speech.