Seen as a nigh-unstoppable powerhouse when the season began, the Astros, while quite good, have not been the juggernaut of preseason predictions. Houston's lineup has struggled some, at least by their recent standards, but you can bet that's only temporary; there's just too much talent on this team for any prolonged downturns. Defending AL MVP José Altuve, right fielder George Springer, and infielders Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman all have .350+ on-base marks, and even while underperforming, Houston remains sixth in the league in home runs. Still, even if the whole lineup was to slump at once, Houston boasts the best pitching staff in the known universe and can keep a low-scoring offense in most games.
Their rotation would win most poker hands, too, an aces-over-kings full house consisting of Justin Verlander (AL Pitcher of the Month for May), Garrit Cole (AL leader in strikeouts), Dallas Keuchel (2015 Cy Young winner), Charlie Morton (7-0), and Lance McCullers, the runt of the litter with a 7-3/3.89 mark. Houston leads the league in Quality Starts (by a lot), is more than a run better than any other AL team in runs allowed per game at 2.8, and unsurprisingly has the most wins by starters. Their bullpen, a less important element for the Astros than for anyone else, includes three relievers with ERAs below 2.00 and a closer, Ken Giles, who has walked just one batter all year.
As formidable as they are, though, the Astros have proven to be catchable in the standings and the Mariners could make some real noise if they can take a few series against Houston.
Players to Watch
Justin Verlander: He leads the Majors in ERA and WHIP, was AL Pitcher of the Month for May, and at 35 is having a better year than his Cy Young/MVP season in 2011. Since his trade from Detroit to Houston last August, Verlander has put up an unreal winning percentage of .857 and equally amazing ERA of 1.09.
José Altuve: One of the best players of his generation, Altuve leads the league in hits, something he's done every year since 2014. The Astros locked up their three-time batting champ with a $163.5 million contract extension through 2024. Houston would like Altuve to be a lifetime Astro just like another popular Houston second-sacker, Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
Alex Bregman: Without many outside Texas noticing, this former first-round draft pick has become one of the most productive third basemen in the bigs. Last year's .284/.352/.475 line was good for a top-ten finish in all three categories at the position, and while this season's batting average is down, his .376 OBP is second only to Altuve among Astros.
A.J. Hinch: The former A’s, Tigers, Royals, and Phillies catcher has had substantially more success in his second managerial gig than his first. After scuffling to a .420 winning percentage in less than two full seasons with the Diamondbacks, Hinch has a .565 mark thus far with the Astros, including, of course, last year's World Championship. Baseball America's 2017 Manager of the Year finished third in the official AL Manager of the Year voting, likely because, come on, most managers could win with the team Houston fielded last year. But Hinch is well-liked and respected by his players and gets the most out of a highly talented group.
No one on the Astros' roster nor on the coaching staff has played for Seattle.
|Houston Astros AL||(2013 - present)|
|Division Titles:||1980, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001|
Yuri Gurriel served a five-game suspension early this season for his behavior during last year's World Series. Gurriel mocked the Dodgers' Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish by making racist remarks and an offensive gesture that was caught on camera, and for good or ill, the Commissioner's office decided to allow him to continue playing in the Series and delay his punishment until the start of 2018. For his part, Darvish didn't hold a grudge and accepted Gurriel's apology. "He played in Japan, and I have respect for him," Darvish said. "As citizens of the world, if we can learn from this and take a step forward, I think this could be a good thing."
José Altuve: The shortest player in the Major Leagues at just under five-foot-six, Altuve has inspired the measurement unit known as OSLA, or Official Standard Listed Altuves. For reference, the height of the outfield wall at Safeco Field = 1.48 OSLA; distance between Major League bases = 16.614 OSLA; altitude of Mt. Rainier = 2,660.3 OSLA; distance from Earth to the moon = 232,858,039.5 OSLA. You can find a feet-to-OSLA converter online at www.howmanyaltuves.com.
Marwin González played six different positions last year (and in 2016), showing equal competence at all of them. He also switch-hits. One of these days he'll probably try pitching, and who wants to bet he won't strike someone out? He's the first player to appear in 19+ games at five different positions since Cesar Tovar in 1968.
Justin Verlander dominated the Yankees in May, striking out 19 in 142⁄3 innings over two starts, prompting the always-classy crowd at Yankee Stadium to boo him off the field as he left the mound in the 7th inning on May 28th. Verlander responded by tipping his cap to the hostile throng of New Yorkers.