Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Despite a tough 3-3 week where they dropped three of four in Minnesota against a tough Twins team, the huge display of power in Mexico over the weekend put things back in perspective; the Astros can beat anyone, anywhere. With the second full month of baseball underway, I took some time to break down what has been going right for the Astros so far in 2019:
Catching fire at the plate
Granted, the Astros just scored 24 runs over a two-game span against the Angels in Monterrey, but nonetheless, it's a sign that this potent offense is shaking off the early-season dust and finding their swing. If we would have been told going into the 2019 season that Jose Altuve would be hovering around a .250 average after 34 games, most of us probably would have considered that a symptom of the team at large struggling on offense. Instead, we've seen quite the contrary with other key players at the top of the lineup stepping up in big ways.
One of those key players is Michael Brantley. He has been nothing short of fantastic in an Astros uniform and currently leads the team in batting average at .336, which as of this writing was seventh-best in the majors. Pair that with his team second-best 24 RBIs and Houston's new cleanup hitter has fit in perfectly. Speaking of RBIs, the owner of first place on the team is George Springer, whose 27 RBIs and 10 home runs so far this year has him tied for eighth in the league in both categories.
Something that would pair well with these two guys getting hits is someone that can reliably get on base. Enter Alex Bregman. His .400 on-base percentage leads the team and is good for ninth-best in the American League. Much of that has to do with his patience at the plate which has led to 22 walks in 2019, tied for ninth-most in the league.
While the before-mentioned players come up with a lot of big hits, another noticeable part of this lineup that has had a surprisingly good start to the year is Josh Reddick. Reddick is not far behind Brantley in batting average, sitting at .330, and not far behind Bregman in on-base percentage, sitting at .380. After having his struggles at the plate last season he has had a hot start to 2019.
Throw all those bats in the mix with a rising Altuve and Carlos Correa, and it's no surprise that Houston's order has worked their way to the top of the league's leaderboard in team average at a combined .271, third-best in on-base percentage at .344, and third-lowest in strikeout percentage at 19.5%.
Don't forget the guys on the mound
Although the offense may generate most of the highlights on any given night, the pitching staff for Houston deserves a lot of credit for where this team is now and can go the rest of the year.
It starts with ace Justin Verlander, who I won't break down in great detail here since I did just that last week, but for argument's sake let me just highlight that he's 5-1 with a 0.87 WHIP (third-best in the league), 60 strikeouts (third-best in the league), and .176 average against (fourth-best in the league). His biggest fault so far has been giving up too many home runs.
Behind him, you've got the league-leader in strikeouts, Gerrit Cole, who currently sits at 65 and is a start behind most of the leaders since he'll pitch tonight for his eighth game of the year. He's had a big bomb to his numbers after that horrible start against the Rangers earlier this year, but his numbers are still great and have him near the top of the charts.
While the 3-4-5 guys of Collin McHugh, Wade Miley, and Brad Peacock may not be as high on the leaderboards or putting up the kind of numbers that Charlie Morton did for the Astros, they have done their job on the whole of keeping Houston ahead or close enough for the bats to get them back in it.
Behind these starters is an excellent bullpen. The two relievers leading the way and having the most impact are Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Pressly passed Astros-great Roy Oswalt on Sunday by recording his 33rd-straight scoreless inning, giving him a new franchise record. While the streak is historic in and of itself, it's the result of inning after inning of Pressly being in command and imposing his will against batters. He's just another great addition the Astros have made in recent years that compliment the rest of the team, making him one of the best eighth-inning setup guys in the league.
Osuna, Houston's closer they acquired in 2018, has been phenomenal with his new team since joining after his suspension ended last year. While his signing and the situation surrounding it is still rightly debated when you look purely at his work on the mound it has been electric. He has not blown a save since joining Houston, and in 2019 he's allowed just one unimportant run in his 14.1 innings of relief to go along with just three hits and zero walks and eleven strikeouts.
Again, when you put all these pieces together, you get a team ERA of 3.57 (fifth-best in the league), 9.44 strikeouts per 9 innings (eighth-best in the league), and 2.57 walks per 9 innings (best in the league) which if you want to summarize by WAR (wins above replacement), comes out to a 4.7, fifth-best in the league.
Looking ahead: is there even a ceiling?
While their play so far may not have them as the undisputed best team in baseball, all indications are there that they are without question in the conversation, and could easily win a series against any team. It will be interesting to look back at some of these points at both the half-way point of the year when many of these guys are likely named to the All-Star team, then again at the end of the season when they put all their effort into the playoff push and beyond.
With this Astros roster, the only ceiling we may be discussing in October could be Minute Maid Park's, and where to hang another World Series banner.
It's a new year for the Houston Astros as they return to action for their first game of the spring against the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Every season we see some adjustments to the roster which means we also see some changes in leadership. As Astros fans, we're all aware of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker's contract situations. Breggy could be gone after the season, and Tucker could follow one year later.
Which means it's pretty clear who the leaders of the team will be for the foreseeable future. Not only are these guys two of the best players on the club, but they're also under contract for several more years. In Altuve's case, through the 2029 season. For Yordan, he won't sniff free agency until 2029.
While these guys aren't your typical vocal leaders, they are both highly respected and lead by example. Leadership is something that's front of mind for Yordan this season, according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome.
On Yordan Alvarez the leader, one of two constants in a clubhouse bracing for change and the responsibility he wants to shoulder as a result - https://t.co/sZGlI5taBQ
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 21, 2024
Another way to be a leader is to do everything you can to be available for your team. Alvarez changed his diet in the offseason hoping it will help him stay healthy this year.
Manager Joe Espada said Alvarez is fully healthy and he plans on playing him earlier than normal this spring.
Currently, Yordan is trending down in games played for three straight seasons. But he's such a great player that he needs fewer games to put up massive numbers.
He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2022, and he only played in 135 games out of a possible 162.
So with that in mind, how many games does Yordan need to play this year to win an MVP?
Plus, who's going to protect him in the lineup? With new manager Joe Espada in place, it's hard to know what the lineup will look like.
One thing we do know, Espada immediately named Josh Hader his closer when spring training began. He also told the media that he wants Jeremy Pena to know where he's going to hit every day when he comes to the ballpark.
Espada values players knowing their roles, and getting comfortable in their routines. Something very different from last season when manager Dusty Baker moved Pena all over the lineup throughout the season.
So what does all this mean for Yordan?
Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!
Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.