Sports

How Good is the Astros Pitching? Historically Good

Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole set an Astros club record with 61 strikeouts in the month of April.
Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole set an Astros club record with 61 strikeouts in the month of April. Photo by Jack Gorman
Early in the season, it can be tempting to turn into "on pace" guy. George Springer hit a home run in his first game, he must be on pace for more than 100 home runs! But even with the long season looming before them, the Astros pitching staff is doing some things the franchise has never seen before. Hell, they are doing things baseball has never seen before. And that isn't hyperbole.

Through 29 games, the Astros had 11 or more strikeouts by a single pitcher in seven games. That's an MLB record. More astonishing is the combination of strikeouts with ERA. Since they began tracking earned run average in 1913, only one team had two pitchers with ERAs of under two and at least 35 strikeouts through five appearances. This season, the Astros have three.

Justin Verlander (1.10, 39 K's)
Gerrit Cole (1.29, 49 K's)
Charlie Morton (1.86, 35 K's)

Tack on the outing Morton had against the Yankees on Monday night (two hits, one run, 10 strikeouts) and he has 45 strikeouts with a 1.72 ERA in six starts.

click to enlarge Charlie Morton pitched into the eighth inning against the Yankees allowing only one run on two hits for the win. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Charlie Morton pitched into the eighth inning against the Yankees allowing only one run on two hits for the win.
Photo by Jack Gorman
The best five-game starts in Astros history include J.R. Richard in 1980 (1.67, 48 K's), Mike Scott in 1987 (1.89, 42 K's) and 1988 (1.94, 43 K's), Roy Oswalt in 2002 (1.91 and 36 K's) and Roger Clemens in 2005 (1.03, 36 K's). Only Clemens had a better ERA through five than these Astros and no one has had more strikeouts than Cole.

Then there are the league numbers. The entire staff including the bullpen leads the majors in ERA (2.59), strikeouts (302), batting average against (.204), on-base percentage (.266), WHIP (1.02), strikeouts/walks (4.19), strikeouts per nine innings (10.43) and quality starts (21). Those are just the categories where they lead the entire league and not where they are in the top five.

Nevermind the team stats, they are individually dominant as well. Cole has been sensational, setting a franchise records for strikeouts in a month with 61. He, Verlander and Morton are in the top 10 in ERA and Morton is one strikeout shy of the top 10, a group that includes Verlander and Cole, who leads the majors. Consider that doesn't even count Lance McCullers, Jr., who has been fantastic in his last few appearances, or Dallas Keuchel who, while not close to his teammates, is still one of the better lefties in the American League.

The remarkable part about all of this is it comes when the Astros bats are just OK thus far this year. Once they come around—and make no mistake, they will—if they are able to continue to pitch even in the same general stratosphere as what they are doing now, and considering just how good they have been defensively, they will be nearly impossible to beat. As it stands, they are 20-10 with the second best record in the AL and leading their division by two-and-a-half.

As one MLB writer tweeted recently: the Yankees are good at hitting the ball, the Astros are good at everything.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke