Last year, after 115 games, the Astros were 71-44 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. This year, the Astros just completed a 6-2 West Coast road trip that included series wins over the Mariners, Dodgers and Giants. In those eight games, they were without (at different times) Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Brian McCann, Chris Devenski and Lance McCullers, Jr. They won four of the six by two or fewer runs. And this was all done under the specter of the Roberto Osuna trade.
The reason for their success is pitching, as it has been for most of the season. But, remarkably, in this stretch, it was the bullpen that really impressed racking up a zero ERA in eight games. Add that to the typically stellar starting pitching and the Astros were nearly un-hittable.
Now, no one knows if the Astros can repeat. If they don't, they won't finish the year as the best team in Astros history. That would be the 2017 squad. But, if they get their injured guys back — and all indications are they will have all but probably McCullers back by the end of the month — the level of talent on this iteration is without question greater than last year. Imagine a team that hit like last year with this year's pitching. Scary.
The past few games, there have been some indications that the team might be starting to find that late-inning magic that propelled them to so many wins in 2017. In both Giants games, it was a late home run that gave them the win, one from Marwin Gonzales, who appears to rapidly be turning his season around, and another by Tyler White. Yes, Tyler White. Without a middle of the lineup featuring some of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, the Astros have hung on with great pitching and clutch hitting. Once some of those starters begin coming off the DL, it isn't hard to imagine their offense exploding.
Last August, the Astros struggled going 10-17. Granted, they didn't have a lot to play for with a double-digit division lead, but there was the distinct feeling they were slipping. This August, they are only 5.5 games up on second place Oakland and 5-1 in the first six games of the month. They are what their record says they are and right now, it says they are really, really good.