It's early. REALLY early. At least in terms of the baseball season. But, the Astros have had a very solid start to 2019 and continue to ping pong back and forth with Seattle for the lead in the AL West. At the moment, that lead (or lack thereof) means exactly zero, but fans love to scoreboard watch, even if it is May.
This is particularly true after a bumpy handful of games to open the season and some mysterious struggles against the very mediocre Texas Rangers. All-in-all, it's been an up and down month with fortunately more ups than downs.
So, let's assign a few grades, shall we?
The Astros aren't quite back to their ridiculous 2017 numbers, but they aren't far off. They lead baseball in average and OPS, are third in slugging and fourth in on-base percentage. They are also fourth in total bases and fifth in home runs. That is combined with the fact they strike out fewer than all but two teams in the majors and are eighth in walks.
Only Yuli Gurriel ranks outside the top 11 in WAR (wins above replacement) and while Jose Altuve has struggled a bit, no one expects that to be a season long problem and his power numbers are way up from 2018.
Josh Reddick seems to have found his swing again leading the team with a .352 average. Michael Brantley has been every bit the hitter we all expected. George Springer continues to crush the ball and Carlos Correa looks like the guy we hoped he would be a couple years ago. Alex Bregman continues to be Alex Bregman. This lineup is absolutely stacked and with the exception of a few bad outings against good pitching, it appears to be poised for another monster year.
Starting Pitching: B-
Despite a few truly awful starts, the Astros starters remain some of the best in baseball, thanks largely to the steady hand of Justin Verlander and the dynamic pitching Gerrit Cole. Verlander is once again among the best in multiple categories including strikeouts (fourth), innings pitched (fourth), ERA (tenth) and WAR for pitchers (fourth). Cole, on the other hand, leads the majors in strikeouts and is seeing his ERA begin to come down after a tough start a little over a week ago.
The back half of the rotation hasn't been bad either. Colin McHugh has a rather bloated 4.78 ERA but he also has 37 strikeouts and only 10 walks. Both Wade Miley and Brad Peacock have also been respectable in the fourth and fifth spots. The issue for Astros pitching has been the long ball. Starters are near the bottom of the league in home runs given up. Only Peacock has given up fewer than four and Verlander has uncharacteristically given up seven. Minus the home run issues, the starters have been really good.
The bullpen has been absolutely magical so far in 2019. They lead the majors in ERA (2.91), WHIP (1.03) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.50), and are third in batting average against (2.03). They have been simply masterful and the two most notable among this crew are Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Pressly has a ZERO ERA in 12.1 innings with only three hits allowed, zero walks and 13 strikeouts. He may be the best reliever in baseball. Osuna isn't far behind with his microscopic 0.73 ERA, allowing only one run in 12.1 innings while remaining perfect in save opportunities since joining the club last year (he is 7-7 in 2019).
The only black mark on the pen has been flamethrower Josh James. James doesn't seem quite fully prepared for a full season with a bloated ERA over seven, giving up four home runs in 14 innings. He's also walked 11 with 21 strikeouts. It feels a bit like hitters have figured him out and he might need to do some fine tuning. Beyond that, the bullpen has been simply lights out.
Despite a rough start against what we now know is a very good Tampa Bay team, the Astros have continued to string together series wins and hold their position atop the AL West. The only confounding outlier has been the Rangers who have beaten the 'Stros five out of seven times, all in Arlington. Flip those numbers and the Astros would be 11-7 on the road instead of 8-9. But, that 10-3 home mark is still quite good and there is no reason to think they won't remain a contender throughout the season. There is always room for improvement, but it was a good April for the Astros with hopefully better months to come.
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