The Astros hit the official halfway point over the weekend. It’s been a winding road, to be sure, and some may argue it’s been the same ol’, same ol’. But even for the most cynical cynic, it’s difficult to argue the organization hasn’t taken a few steps forward.
After Sunday’s win, the league’s worst team three years’ running is now on pace for a 70-92 finish, a 19-game improvement over 2013.
The Astros have identified as many as a dozen players who could be part of the core for the next 4-6 years, something the team hasn’t been able to say for at least a half decade.
The first 83 games have provided some hope for fans, so let’s look at some of the best — and worst — of 2014 thus far.
Most Valuable Player.
- This one’s easy. You could call him Most Improved Player or maybe even the team leader, but anyway you slice it, Jose Altuve is the Astros’ MVP. In fact, he may be the league MVP at the halfway point. Wherever Bo Porter plugs him in, the diminutive second baseman produces. He could set the Astros’ single season record for steals (he has 34 to lead the league) and he could join the All Time Top 10 in that category as soon as next season. Moreover, with 113 hits, he could break Craig Biggio‘s single season record for a season (210). Too early to make comparisons to Biggio or even Joe Morgan? Maybe, but he’s obviously the Astros’ team leader. And he’s clearly — head and shoulders — the team’s MVP through the first half of 2014.
- Honorable Mention: Dexter Fowler, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer.
- Dallas Keuchel. He began the season as the team’s fifth starter and few gave him a chance to last the season. He’s had an ERA below 4 since his first game and he’s been among the league leaders in wins and ERA for several weeks. Despite the past two games, which could be deemed his worst of the year. A left wrist injury could slow down his season and other pitchers have had their moments, but Keuchel is the best pitcher for the first 83 games.
- Honorable Mention. Jarred Cosart, who may be on his way to the best pitcher in the second half. He’s 7-3, 2.70 in 76 2/3 IP over his last 12 starts.
Best In-Season Addition.
- You got someone better than Springer? I didn’t think so. Despite missing the first 14 games of the season coupled with a slow start, the 2011 first round pick is on pace for 34 HRs and 93 RBI. Amazingly, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a 40/100 season with only minimal improvement, which might include a few less Ks, a few more BBs and a little more protection in the lineup.
- Honorable Mention: Jon Singleton, Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp.
Worst Addition Since January 1.
- Jerome Williams. Hands. Down. This was a head scratcher from the beginning. A $2.1 million deal for a guy who had never earned more than $2 million in a season. Interestingly, he’s without a start in 25 appearances this year after 25 starts in 2013 and 15 in 2012. Time to eat the contract, he’s blocking better pitchers.
- Honorable Mention. Alex Presley, Kyle Farnsworth, Jesse Crain (actually acquired 12/31/13).
Worst Non-move of the season.
- Reasonable minds could disagree, but hanging onto Williams, Jesus Guzman and Chris Carter head this list. Luhnow got it right with Lucas Harrell. Time to get it right with the others.
- Honorable Mention.
And a few other highlights/lowlights in lightning round form.
- Biggest surprise. Altuve and Keuchel.
- Biggest disappointment. Jason Castro. Honorable mention. Robbie Grossman, Matt Dominguez.
- Best Porter move. Hitting Fowler, Altuve, Springer 1-2-3.
- Worse Porter move. There are many, but use of the pen ranks high on, if not at the top of, the list.
- Most encouraging stat. 6 starters, all with sub 5 ERAs.
- Most encouraging stat II. 11 quality starts for Keuchel and Cosart. Bud Norris led the team in 2013 (13).
- Most discouraging stat. League-leading 725 Ks (8.7/game).
- Most Interesting Stat. Astros are 13-6 when Fowler hits third.
- Little known number. Astros are 31-9 when scoring 4+ runs.
- The race for .500. With a win Monday, the Astros will finish 13-14 in June putting them at .500 since May 1.