MMQB: Astros’ difference makers from then and now

It hasn’t been long since the Astros were en route to another 110-loss season. Bungled plays, base running miscues, no clutch hitting and a team generally playing with no passion. You remember your frustration.

That was back in April, and it seems like another time and another place. Far away. Since finishing April 9-19, the Astros are 19-17, including 17-10 since May 11.

So what’s the difference? It’s easy to point to George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and perhaps even Jon Singleton in the past few games. But, looking a little deeper, here are some of the game-changers for the Astros in recent weeks.

Bo Porter settles on a lineup. Finally.

  • On May 13, Porter moved Springer back into the two-hole between Jose Altuve and Dexter Fowler. The Astros responded with a 12-5 run. When Singleton arrived on June 3, Springer moved to #3 behind Fowler and Altuve. Since then: 4-2. In recent weeks, Porter’s lineup adjustments have seemed more strategic and reasonable than experimental. Indeed, Altuve, Springer, Singleton at 2-3-4 may be the future of the team for the rest of the decade.

Chad Qualls.

  • Almost single-handedly Qualls has calmed the bullpen. While others may have broken or bent, the 35-year-old Qualls has been a steady road block. He hasn’t allowed a run in 16 appearances since April 21. The team started the season with a closer-by-committee group, but Qualls has stepped up to claim the role. His 22 Ks and 3 BBs (two of those intentional) and 2.18 ERA speak volumes.

Starting pitching.

  • When is the last time you can remember the Astros having six different starters with ERAs under 5? And two of those pitchers (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh) with sub-3 ERAs? Houston starters have posted a 3.92 ERA for the season and lead the AL with fewest HRs allowed (32). Despite Scott Feldman‘s up-and-down year, Astros’ starters have made us forget Lucas Harrell. Oh yeah, since May 11, the entire pitching staff has posted a 3.10 ERA.

Okay, so he did help, by George!

  • You can’t talk about a turnaround with mentioning Springer’s contributions. It did take him a few weeks to hit his stride, but late start notwithstanding, Springer has clearly been a spark plug for the offense. As I mentioned recently, the addition of Singleton gives the Astros an effective 2/3 of a lineup. Springer leads several offensive categories and he’s forced his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation.

Your turn, what changed from April to May?

And, in case you hadn’t noticed:

  • Springer leads the team in HRs (12) and RBI (35).
  • Springer is on pace for 30 HRs and 88 RBI.
  • Keuchel leads team in wins (7) and Ks (70).
  • Keuchel on pace for 18 wins and 178 Ks.
  • Astros are on pace for 71 wins (despite 9-19 April).
  • If Houston plays .500 the rest of the way, they’d finish 77-85, a 26-game improvement.
  • Astros’ starting pitchers have allowed fewer HRs (32) than any other AL team.
  • Altuve is closing in on his 500th hit (490 starting Monday) and 100th SB (98). If he maintains his current pace, he could crack the Astros’ all-time top ten in SB leaders as early as next season.
  • Fowler leads the team in walks (40), not to mention a .430 OBP since May 1. Chris Carter and Springer (22) are next.

12 comments on “MMQB: Astros’ difference makers from then and now

  1. These are interesting stats indeed, especially since the games aren’t watchable.

    The most glaring of the bunch to me is Kuechel’s K’s numbers. He just MIGHT be legit. We’ll see.

    And for those who worry that the Stros’ “success” is nudging me towards the ledge, worry not. There is more to life than not watching the Stros strive to maybe win 75 games. (Although, I admit, it would be fun to watch GSpring and Singlepuff from time-to-time.)


  2. Thoughts –
    – The only red flag I throw out there is the starters failing to go deep into the games in the last week. This leads to bullpen overuse which can result in injuries and a decline in performances.
    – One of the biggest changes on the team since early season is purely attitude. Early in the season the batters looked like they were being led to the gallows, especially in close and late situations. Springer has brought infectious fun to the dugout and the guys seem to really go up there expecting to do positive things.
    – There has also been some help at the bottom of the lineup – Carter has around a .800 OPS since April and Grossman with a recent hot streak has an OPS over .750 since April.
    – And for us few fortunates – the team has become very watchable lately. We know they are likely to win a game or a series.


    • Interesting point, Dan, about the boost in injury. Just to play devil’s advocate, the players spent spring training the last two years with Springer. They probably wanted him on the squad for more than just his ability in games based on how improved the chemistry looks since his callup. In other words, I’m of the opinion bopert’s boys Luhnow and Crane drained their energy to start the year by sending him to OKC.

      I don’t put much stock in the Drelich commentary from the other week, but will say that baseball teams are largely ‘old boys’ clubs. For suits and academic types who never donned a uniform to call the shots there are many players who will give them very little benefit of the doubt. My opinion is that the momentum is forward right now and the mngmnt team needs to ensure it stays that way. Otherwise, players and fans will just think we are KC 2.0.


  3. Keep in mind that for a team to go from the bottom tier after a month to the middle tier after two months, they have to perform like a top tier team in that second month.
    The Astros went from the worst hitting team to the middle tier. Their Starting pitching went from the bottom of the stats to the middle but their relief stats are still at the bottom, so that does show how Qualls has been their savior in the bullpen.
    They went from the top tier in fielding stats to the middle tier so they had a bad month fielding in May.
    The positions they are still near the bottom in hitting are LF, SS, C, 1B and DH. and those four have not managed to move up in the stats.
    Fowler and Altuve’s tremendous OBP and Springers power have been the difference maker’s at the plate, and Starting pitching has carried the defense, as far as not allowing runs. Why the turnaround? Hitters giving the starting pitchers the lead and starting pitchers and Chad Qualls and Tony Sipp not giving it up.
    How do they get better? More players stepping up in the bullpen, Castro, Villar Grossman, Singleton and Carter start hitting.


    • I will say old pro that while the bullpen’s stats overall are still poor – like a 4.76 ERA – if you consider where they were at the end of April with an ERA over 6 – they have been performing middle of the road or better since. Qualls, Sipp, Fields and Downs have been very good especially in key situations. Clemens, Williams and Farnsworth – not so much.


  4. We all know in pro sports there is a small margin of error between winning and loosing. These guys are all great athletes on the highest level. The biggest difference that has turned the ship around is attitude. The believe that one can win , compliments of Springer, having fun, realizing that you are as good or better than your opponent, compliments of Springer. Overused cliche but, winning is contagious.We still need to add some more talent and its a coming, but in the meantime, what a joy to once again enjoy reading the sports page again in the summer.Our 1-6 is stating to look pretty solid, “lets play 2”


  5. While I like the pace the Astros have been on, I’m still seeing somewhere between 65-70 wins — no more. And I’m fine with that.

    McHugh looks like he’s ready to regress a bit. I’m sure Feldman will be up and down with his performances all year. And Keuchel will falter a time or three.

    And, as we have seen, we can have horrible days at the plate.

    But I think our valleys will be fewer and less severe. And we will have a great peak or two the rest of the season.

    Go Astros!


  6. McHugh got in trouble last time out because all of his breaking stuff was really breaking. And worse, he could not get his fastball over the plate. When he can throw strikes he’s tough. He has not really been beaten up by anyone, still averaging just 6.1 hits per nine and getting 9.9 K’s per nine. I’m not sold yet, but when he can get a 73 MPH curve over, that 90 MPH fastball looks much faster and that slider is tough to figure out.

    I still feel the way I did about Feldman when we signed him. I’m not impressed. My biggest issue is that we might be stuck with him out there every fifth day even as we have guys waiting around in OKC for their own shot. That’s the tough thing about giving a guy 20% of the payroll. He’s not going to the pen if he’s ineffective.

    The thing I like most about Springer to date is the .346 OBP. He might strike out 200 times, but I think his walk rate will only increase as he sees pitchers multiple times. And as he gets more selective, he’ll see more pitches.


  7. The poor base running is back. In the ninth, fowler forgot to see the ground ball through in front of him and got nailed at third. Then, Altuve was looking over his shoulder rounding third and took a bad turn giving him a bad angle. They held on for the win, but made it more difficult than necessary.


  8. After the game a few nights ago, Porter was talking about how if Carter starts hitting it “lengthens” the lineup. In other words, here’s another hitter opposing pitchers must fear. It starts to wear on the opposition mentally as well as in a challenge sense.

    Anyway, it’s amazing how quickly our lineup can be shortened. Springer Ks every time up. Fowler doesn’t get on base. Altuve is out with a hurt hand.

    As good as we’ve been playing, we’re just an injury and some bad swings away from 2013.

    It was one game. But boy I’d hate to lose a series to the Rays


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