Justin Verlander has been better than good through his first 11 starts.
Justin Verlander has been better than good through his first 11 starts.
Photo by Jack Gorman

Astros Great Through a Third of the Season and Tough Stretch in the Schedule

Since May 14, the Astros have taken two of three games against the Angels and Indians, swept a two-game series in San Francisco against the Giants, taken two of four in Cleveland (which would have been three if not for a crazy, fluky extra-innings game in game four) and beat the Yankees in the first game of their series in New York. This followed a tough stretch where they lost three of four to the Yankees and two of three in Arizona.

Basically, the Astros are good again, except they've never really been bad.

Through 50 games, the four World Series winner before 2017 had won 21, 30, 28 and 25 games. By that point, which was a few games back, the Astros had won 32. They now sit at 35-20, which is tied for second best in baseball behind Boston. But, we can forgive Astros fans for having high standards; last they they were 39-16 at this time.

More importantly, they are playing well during a very difficult stretch in the schedule, with the bats, including the bottom third of the lineup, finally showing some life (Evan Gattis hit two homers Sunday). Houston has two more games in New York and four in Boston before series against Seattle, Texas (twice), Oakland (twice), Kansas City (twice), Tampa Bay (twice), Toronto, Chicago (White Sox) and Detroit. Of those games, 22 are home and 16 are on the road.

And this is to say nothing of how insanely good their starting pitching remains. Setting aside a downer for Lance McCullers, Jr., the starting rotation still has the best ERA in baseball by half a run (nearly a full run if you count relievers) and strikeouts by nearly 30. Justin Verlander leads the crew with a remarkable 1.08 ERA, the second lowest through 11 starts since 2000 when Pedro Martinez threw a .95.

Now, through one third of the season, they are on pace to win 102 games, one more than 2017, and they haven't been on a torrid run like they did last season about this time. But, they are beginning to look more and more like the team that won the World Series last year, perhaps better when you factor in pitching. In the last 19 games, since their rough series loss at Arizona, they are averaging 5.7 runs scored per game and allowing only 2.

If there is one question mark that remains, it's the bullpen. But, even the relievers are throwing up the fourth best ERA in the majors with the second fewest innings of any team in baseball, while ranking first in opponent on base percentage. Without question, they have had some awkward moments, like giving up five runs in the ninth against Cleveland, who won in extra innings Sunday. And they are middle of the pack in save percentage. But, they remain a very solid group that could improve come the trade deadline.

They must remain healthy and it is unlikely that their starters will be this good through 162 games, but the Astros are pretty much where you should want them to be through the first third of the season and approaching the end of a very tough stretch of games.

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