STAR POWER

​If you’re feeling Astros déjà vu, here’s why

Astros Carlos Correa (left) and Yuli Gurriel (right)
The Astros are crushing the baseball. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
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No, MLB has not given the Astros permission to print World Series tickets just yet, and nobody's counting down their "magic number," but this way-too-early season sure feels like 2017 and 2019, the Astros last two trips to the Fall Classic.

Despite Monday night's late score, a 7-6 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, the Astros are sitting at 4-1 on the year, including a dominating sweep of the defending American League West champs A's. That was a hell of a start on the road in Oakland. Only three other teams in history scored 8 or more runs in their first four games like the Astros did.

I remember that familiar feeling from 2017. I'd get home, turn on the TV and just assume the Astros would be up by a few runs heading into the sixth or seventh inning. That's one of the best things about baseball's crazy long 162-game season, there's rarely "nothing on TV" – there's almost always an Astros game.

Look at the top of the Astros batting order: Jose Altuve is back to being Jose Altuve slashing .381, Michael Brantley is crushing a ridiculous .667, Alex Bregman is at .471, Yuli Gurriel is at .500, supersub Aledmys Diaz is .375, Carlos Correa is back up to .273 and Yordan Alvarez is healthy and driving in runs at .273.

How have the Astros lost even one game?

The Astros are a mashing machine, racking up 42 runs in their five games. That's all-time record stratosphere.

The Astros swagger is back. It may (maybe not) have been unintentional, but recently tatted Correa was badass knocking A's All-Star Matt Chapman on his butt with a tag on a double play ball.

Like most fans, Alex Bregman put on the "COVID 15" pounds, except his is muscle. The Astros aren't trembling over fans' jeers. If fans in other stadiums want to bang trash cans, bang away. Scoreboard.

The Astros are doing this despite losing Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, George Springer and Josh Reddick over the past couple of seasons. Manager A.J. Hinch and g.m. Jeff Luhnow, too. They've reloaded.

Sure, not all is joy in Mudville. The Astros starting pitching has been concerning, only one quality start (six innings or more with fewer than three earned runs) – Zack Greinke on Opening Day. And he did it just barely, going six innings in an 8-1 Astros win.

While the top of the Astros lineup has been historic, the bottom of the order is a little like Little League with semi-automatic outs. Kyle Tucker is scuffling at .182, Myles Straw is struggling at .176, and Martin Maldonado is laying low at .063.

Still there's no getting around it (you can look it up), the Astros are scoring runs at a ridiculous rate. After five games, a small but significant sampling because they've been on the road against their two main AL West rivals, the Astros are averaging 8.4 runs a game. The Astros are a swinging team all right.

To place the Astros' run production in perspective, no team ever has averaged as many as seven runs a game over a season. The all-time bashing team was the 1931 Yankees, with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig both swatting 48 homers to lead the American League. That year, the Yankees averaged 6.97 runs per game. They also led the league in batting average, homers, on base percentage, slugging and stolen bases. Gehrig set the American League record with 184 RBI.

Now before we get too giddy over the Astros' fritzing out the scoreboard on a daily basis …

The 1931 Yankees finished in second place, a distant 13-1/2 games behind the Philadelphia A's.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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