Thursday marked the start of the final third of the regular season. Composite image by Jack Brame.
Sad news with the death Wednesday night of former Astro J.R. Richard at 71 years old. Before the career ending stroke he suffered at just 30 years old in 1980, James Rodney Richard was one of the most intimidating pitchers ever to take the mound for the Astros or any other team. Six feet eight inches tall with a 100-mile per hour fastball, Richard at the end of his long pitching stride must have made batters feel like he was about handing the ball to the catcher at 100 MPH. He had a wipeout slider to go with it. In each of his final two full seasons, Richard topped 300 strikeouts and led the National League. Those same two seasons Nolan Ryan led the American League while with the Angels. Over those two seasons Ryan struck out 483. J.R. struck out 616. Nolan faced designated hitters instead of pitchers but that is still a huge gap. Since J.R. did it, the only pitchers to reach 300 Ks in consecutive seasons are Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson (not when they were teammates with the Diamondbacks). "The Big Unit" topped 330 four years in a row.
Three times Richard led the NL in walks, three times he led in wild pitches. In 1980 Richard had harnessed his wildness and was absolutely dominating. His earned run average was 1.90 and he'd given up just 65 hits in 113 2/3 innings. The league was batting .166 against him with a laughable .462 OPS. J.R. was making opposing lineups look like they were comprised of all guys significantly worse than Martin Maldonado (OPS this season .595). Richard started the All-Star Game July 8. He made one more start July 14 before being shut down feeling a "dead" arm. Barely two weeks later, the stroke on July 30.
In what has been disappointing to some and angering to some others, the Astros never retired J.R. Richard's number 50. The most recent Astro to wear number 50 was Charlie Morton, who certainly wore it with great distinction. J.R. is in the Astros' Hall of Fame. With COVID having messed up last year's planned celebration of Astros' Hall of Fame Class of 2020, the class will be honored Saturday night. The honorees are: Lance Berkman, Cesar Cedeno, Roy Hofheinz, Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, and Bob Watson.
Big opportunity for Astros
Off a 4-4 road trip to Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the Astros should now resume racking up the wins. They started with a weak showing in losing to Minnesota Thursday night at Minute Maid Park so their American League West lead over Oakland is four games. While the A's play host to the abysmal Texas Rangers this weekend, the Astros get three more games against the lousy Twins. Those are followed by two at MMP vs the roadkill Rockies, three In Anaheim against the mediocre Angels, then four at crummy Kansas City. Winning fewer than nine of the next twelve would be at least mildly disappointing.
Thursday marked the start of the final third of the regular season schedule. Extrapolating some numbers from the two-thirds mark over the rest of the way…
Jose Altuve is on pace to top his career highs in home runs (career high is 31, on pace for 37), runs scored (112, 118), walks (60, 71), and strikeouts (84, 104).
Between injuries and a couple of down seasons Carlos Correa has never scored more than 82 runs in a season. He's on pace for 104. Correa's first full big league season (2016) is the only normal length season he's been healthy all the way. So far so good this year.
Kyle Tucker woke up May 9 batting .175. Since then he's hit .322 and is on pace for 31 homers and 99 runs batted in.
Historic Astros offense?
The Astros have never had four guys reach 100 RBI in the same season. Altuve, Tucker, Yuli Gurriel, and Yordan Alvarez are all on pace for from 96 to 105.
1. Astros' starting pitchers may not combine for 19 complete games this decade. J.R. threw 19 complete games in 1979.
2. Lionel Messi may be the greatest soccer player ever. Messi is 34 years old so his leaving F.C. Barcelona isn't as big a deal as when the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky in his prime. It's probably a bigger deal than Michael Jordan unretiring to join the Washington Wizards. Jordan turned 40 during his second and final season with the Wizards. He played all 82 games and averaged 37 minutes per game. Load management of today's NBA must make Jordan laugh, if not make him nauseous.
3. Greatest real wizards, meaning not movie or book characters: Bronze-Gus Williams Silver-John Wooden Gold-Ozzie Smith
With a new season on the horizon, the Astros have high hopes for 2024 after coming just one game shy of being in the World Series for three consecutive seasons.
If Houston wants to get back to the Fall Classic in 2024, they're going to have to rely on their pitching. Owner Jim Crane believes the club has 8 starting pitchers when Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. return mid-season.
Which allows several of the starters to move to the bullpen and provide even more depth. Add those guys to Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader and you have a recipe for success.
Check out the video above as ESPN Houston's Jeremy Branham goes through the entire staff and makes his case for the Astros having the best pitching staff in baseball.
You can listen to The Killer B's with Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank every weekday on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 from 3 pm - 6 pm!