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.
The last time the Astros finished a season with a winning record was 2008. They went 86-75 and finished third in the National League Central. (The team moved to the AL in 2013.) Since then, they’ve posted a combined 382-510 record, including three straight 100-loss seasons (2011-2013).
With that kind of history, it’s no surprise that they have an arsenal of first round choices at their disposal. But when you think of their lineup like a puzzle, you can better see the pieces coming together.
One piece is Carlos Correa, a super prospect who is currently tearing up the minors. So far, he is hitting .382 with an astonishing, video-game-like 1.163 on base percentage. Houston’s stock of players also includes star second baseman José Altuve and outfielder George Springer. Springer is coming off the DL — he played his first game in a week last night, helping Houston defeat the San Francisco Giants, 4-3, with a three-run homer in the 8th inning. He had been out with a concussion, which he suffered after making a highlight reel catch diving into a wall to save a hit. Altuve however, is healthy and is a perennial All-Star. He’s very possibly one of the best second basemen in the game and currently leads all AL second basemen with an impressive .333 batting average.
But hitting is only half of the game. And on the defensive side, the Astros aren’t too shabby either. Dallas Keuchel currently leads the MLB in ERA (1.39) and is undefeated (4-0). Paired with Keuchel is Collin McHugh who in addition to having a 3.23 ERA, is also undefeated. The Astros are also able to finish games. The team’s reliever ERA is fourth in the league at 2.13. Luke Gregerson is playing well as a closer, notching seven saves. The Astros have depth here, too, as Chad Qualls is always an option if they can’t pitch Gregerson.
The Astros have also been savvy in their offseason dealings. They made a major trade to acquire Evan Gattis from the Braves. Houston gave up three top prospects, but it now has a solid designated hitter and another piece in its lineup puzzle.
The Astros have used almost every trick in the book — trades, call-ups, draft picks, you name it — to make an amazing turnaround. They now have the league backpedaling in surprise, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they use this new completed puzzle to go far.
Who’s laughing now?
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