For several years, the Astros have been the laughingstock of baseball. But in 2015, the young, rejuvenated ‘stros are sitting pretty at the top of the American League. As of May 15, Houston is 22-13, tied for the best record in the AL with the Kansas City Royals.
The Astros’ first round draft picks of the last few years are maturing, their starters are pitching like aces, and they have traded to get some solid, major-league tested players. Now all the pieces are in place, and Houston is playing its best ball since the start of the millennium. Let’s explore how the team got here.
Last night, the Tampa Bay Lighting closed out the Montreal Canadiens to move to the Eastern Conference Finals in the NHL. And in the NBA playoffs, the Houston Rockets gave the LA Clippers a taste of their own medicine in a 124-103 drubbing to even that series 2-2. With so much great postseason action, chances are you weren’t watching the LA Dodgers host the Miami Marlins last night. And that’s OK. But you missed an earlier contender for home run of the year.
The shot came off the bat of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Naturally. In the top of the first, Stanton crushed an 0-1 pitch literally out of Dodger Stadium. Statcast measured it at 475 feet (the third longest recorded by MLB’s real-time tracking system), and it left the park at a speed of 114 miles per hour.
The fans at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia cheer when Phillies second baseman Chase Utley comes up to bat — even though he’s only batting around .100. The whole stadium boos when Ryan Howard strikes out — which seems to be happening more and more often this year. (As of May 11, he has only hit six home runs.) The Phillies’ front office is publicly admitting that they are looking to trade Cole Hamels, and fan favorite and former team stalwart, Carlos Ruiz, is only starting as catcher about half of the time.
The 2015 Phillies are not even close to the same team that won five straight division titles (2007-2011). Or the National League pennant in 2008 and 2009. Or the World Series in 2008. This is a team that’s in the slow process of rebuilding.
A year ago, Alex Rodriguez was serving a season-long suspension for having used performance-enhancing drugs. The closest he could get to a ballpark was watching his Yankees teammates on TV. But that was probably for the best. The last time he was on the field, in 2013, he was booed nearly everywhere he went, from Boston to the Bronx to the Bay Area.
Last night, though, things were different. The attitude, the scandal, the suspension — none of it mattered. Because A-Rod made history.
In our April issue, we have a feature on stats that makes the case for better ways to evaluate baseball players. The alphabet soup of advanced metrics include OPS+ (Adjusted On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) — and they’re likely to give you a headache. But don’t worry! Some kids in the Heschel SABR Club in New York have your primer on some key sabermetrics you need to know to be a better fan.
1. WAR (Win Above Replacement) is by far the coolest name on this list. But it’s also a key advanced metric. It counts how many wins a player adds to his team’s total compared to an average replacement. While not a perfect stat by any means, WAR is becoming more and more popular. This year, both Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, the AL and NL MVPs, led their league in WAR.
Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis has a go-kart track in his backyard in California that provides fun for drivers of all ages
My dad used to drag race back in the 1960s and '70s, and my brother started racing about 15 years back. He semi-retired five years ago, and that's when I said we need a go-kart track in the backyard so we can still have fun and get that adrenaline going. I appreciated my wife, Jenny (above), being supportive of the idea. We moved in around that time and built the dirt track and then remodeled it after the 2011 World Series. My brother Zack Forster and our friend John Piker did all the leveling and the dirt work. We have more than a dozen go-karts now, and there's about four I can fit in.