HOUSTON CONTINUES TO WIN
Terrific pitching, patient hitting have Astros on hot streak
Back on the first of May, the Astros lost to the Blue Jays 3-2 in Toronto, dropping the series two games to one and giving up the season series 4-2 in a potential postseason preview against a formidable AL foe. The win for the Blue Jays moved them up to 15-8 on the season, while Houston fell to .500 in 2022 at 11-11.
While it was certainly no time to panic, Houston's offense was having some real struggles, and they found themselves sitting third in the AL West behind the Mariners and the surging Angels. Things changed in a hurry, though, and now the Astros look like the Astros again.
Pitching has led the way
Houston didn't stay in third place in the division for long, as they took advantage of the opportunity to leapfrog the Mariners through a three-game sweep to start a seven-game homestand. The Astros outscored Seattle 14-2 in those games, with the two runs allowed coming in the finale after back-to-back shutouts to start the series.
The first of those came in a start by Jake Odorizzi, who has turned a complete 180 from the first three starts of the season by rattling off three quality starts in a row. In fact, after giving up nine earned runs in his first three games, he has allowed just one in his last three and has gone at least five innings in each to grab three-straight wins and has lowered his ERA from 9.00 to 3.38 in the process.
Odorizzi is just one of the great pitching stories going for Houston right now, as unlike in recent years when their bats have powered them to slugfest wins, it's been the Astros' pitching that has led the way for them to win lower-scoring, tighter games. While Houston saw the departure of Brent Strom in the offseason, which some may have thought would lead to a decline in some facets of Houston's pitching repertoire, so far in May, it's been the opposite. In fact, so far this month, Houston leads the entire league with a 1.13 ERA, .160 opponent batting average, and 0.75 WHIP.
Verlander continues to dominate
Speaking of terrific pitching, we can't go any further without commenting on how incredible Justin Verlander's return to the mound has been. Since his first game of the year, where despite a pitch limit was able to get through five one-run innings but was still tagged with a loss, he has gone at least six innings while getting four wins over his five last starts to improve to 4-1 on the year.
Although the run support for him has picked up, he hasn't needed a ton of it, which was evident in his most recent start against the Twins on May 10th. Going into the game with an already impressive 1.93 ERA, he cruised through the night against Minnesota, getting himself into the eighth carrying a no-hitter bid. Although he would allow a hit to break that bid up, it was, and is still, evident that there are no limitations on Verlander's dominance post-Tommy John surgery.
"I am having fun" - Justin Verlander talks the season he's having returning from Tommy John Surgery
JV tonight vs MIN
8.0 IP, 1 HIT, 0 RUNS, 89 PITCHES (63 STRIKES)@astros I #LevelUppic.twitter.com/kxgUsiIWBx
— AT&T SportsNet™ | SW (@ATTSportsNetSW) May 11, 2022
As Altuve goes, the offense goes
While there have certainly been some key offensive moments in the last eight games, they have averaged 4.13 runs per game, which, while not eye-popping, has been enough to back up the terrific pitching we've seen. One key part of the lineup, though, has been Jose Altuve. He went to the IL after injuring his hamstring in the April 18th game against the Angels, where he finished the day with a .167 average: much too low for his standards.
Since returning to the lineup and resuming his leadoff responsibilities, he has gone 10-for-32 with three home runs, increasing his average to .258 to help Houston reach their eight-game winning streak. Altuve also has six walks in those games, one way the Astros have created scoring opportunities for themselves as they lead the league with a 12.7% walk rate.
The winning streak will come to an end at some point for the Astros, but it's pretty safe to say that this version of the team, the one that finds a way to put together win after win, is more likely to be the one that we see in the remaining 132 games this season.