After watching the Preakness on Saturday and seeing the underdog (under horse?) Rombauer surge from a sixth position early in the race to a win at the end, it was just a reminder that position early is not always a harbinger of things to come. However, with the Astros at the quarter pole, some things are fairly evident at this point in the season.
Offensive Proficiency. Even with some obvious holes at the end of the lineup with Myles Straw normally in the 8th spot and Martin Maldonado in the 9th, the team has been an outstanding offensive team to date. The Astros are 2nd in the AL behind the White Sox with 5.27 runs/game. They are at or near the top with a .266 BA (1st), .333 OBP (2nd) and .765 OPS (3rd). While it may seem like they depend on the long ball a lot, they are actually 10th in the AL with 48 HRs to date. Their offense, which was the middle of the road in 2020, is being driven by the return of Yordan Alvarez, the continued excellence of Michael Brantley and the bounce-back seasons of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel. Kyle Tucker is still working on raising his batting average, but he leads the team in runs scored and HRs and is second in RBIs. They are also getting some decent production off the bench from Aledmys Diaz and Jason Castro, and even though Chas McCormick is below the Mendoza line in BA, his 12 RBIs in 34 ABs equates to 176 RBIs in a 500 AB season.
Starting Pitcher Proficiency. It almost seems like a minor miracle the Astros’ starting pitching is as good as it has been to date. They don’t have their planned-on ace, Justin Verlander. They don’t have their arguably best starter from 2020, Framber Valdez. The pitcher they picked up to fill in for Valdez, Jake Odorizzi, was bad and then injured. Their supposed ace with Verlander gone, Zack Greinke (3-1, 4.18 ERA), has been inconsistent. But there they sit with the 3rd best ERA in the AL (3.63), the third most innings pitched (218) and tied for the 3rd best WHIP (1.13). They have been bolstered by the improved pitching of Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.70 ERA) and the very good pitching of youngsters Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA), Jose Urquidy (3-2, 3.22 ERA) and Luis Garcia (1-3, 3.34 ERA). The story of the next quarter of the season may well be how the Astros deal with the injury to Urquidy (on the 10-day IL) and how they incorporate Odorizzi and Valdez back into the rotation. Who gets moved out of the rotation? And do they move them into the bullpen, or do they send them to the minors to keep them stretched out as starters?
Relief Pitcher Proficiency. The Astros bullpen has been in the bottom half of the AL for the whole season, but lately has been straining to get up close to average. They are 10th in the AL in ERA (4.01) and 7th in WHIP (1.24) in 2021. Ryan Pressly has looked a lot more comfortable in the closer’s role as he has gone 7-for-7 in saves and has a 2-0 record with a 1.50 ERA. Ryne Stanek had a rough last appearance but has been good to this point in the set-up role. Bryan Abreu has been improving in his role as middle innings filler, and Kent Emanuel has been a great addition to the pen since his terrific 8+ inning relief appearance a few weeks ago. Adding Enoli Paredes back into the mix should help things in the late innings, and both Joe Smith and Brooks Raley have looked better in their last few appearances.
Coming Up. Next up for the 24-17 Astros are three games with the first place (by ½ game) Oakland A’s. Yes, fans, we are back to either late-night viewing or early morning DVR playing following our boys of near summer. The Astros have a current 6 game winning streak and have taken 9 of their last 11 games. They have taken 5 of 7 from the A’s on the season. The A’s have taken 9 of their last 14 games, but they have been closer to .500 lately, winning 6 of 11.
The matchups are as follows –
- Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) vs. Sean Manaea (3-2, 4.40 ERA)
- Zack Greinke (3-1, 4.18 ERA) vs. Frankie Montas (5-2, 4.93 ERA)
- Luis Garcia (1-3, 3.34 ERA) vs. Cole Irvin (3-4, 3.02 ERA)
The A’s are scoring more than a run less per game than the Astros. Their starting pitching has an ERA 0.7 higher than the Astros. Their bullpen is marginally better than the Astros. But just like in 2020 and other years, Oakland figures a way to win. They’ve given up 8 more runs than they have scored but still are 8 games over .500. The Astros have scored 56 more runs than they have allowed and still trail the A’s in the standings.
As usual, you never know how an Astros-A’s series will go, but you know it will likely run late and be intriguing.