Something inexplicable is happening with Astros’ Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez
In 1978 the New York Yankees woke up July 20 a whopping 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Yankees then made one of the most famous comebacks of all-time to win the division, then went on to win the World Series. A defining series within the turnaround was a four game set at Fenway Park in early September, which began with the Red Sox clinging to a four game lead. The Yankees annihilated the BoSox four straight by a combined score of 42-9 to leave Boston tied for the lead. Borrowing from gruesome 18th century history, the series was nicknamed “The Boston Massacre.” The Yankees ultimately prevailed in the AL East by winning a one game playoff at Fenway.
With due respect to Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, we now have “The Texas Baseball Massacre” to remember (Hooper and Henkel were the minds behind the non-Disney movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Heading into their three game set at Globe Life Field the Astros and Texas Rangers were in a virtual tie one game back of Seattle in the AL West. The Astros didn’t nail shut the coffin on the Rangers in Arlington this week, but they at least closed the lid.
A cumulative three game 39-10 devastation of the upstaters has the Astros three games ahead of the Rangers and owning the tiebreaker. The Rangers are 4-15 over their last 19 games. They play four games at Toronto next week and play seven of their final 10 games against Seattle, so a Wild Card is still within reach, but the Rangers’ chances of finishing ahead of the Astros now rate closer to none than slim. The Astros were never more than six and a half games behind the Rangers, most recently after a loss June 24. It would be a stunning reversal if they look up at them in the standings again this season.
The Astros are back as the team to beat in the AL West, though the Mariners can certainly have something to say about that. The Mariners have owned the Astros head-to-head 8-2 this season, so the M’s own the tiebreaker, and also get the Astros for three games at T-Mobile Park to start the final week of the regular season. Still, the Astros have the substantially easier remaining schedule. While the Mariners are playing four games at the Rays this weekend and have three against the Dodgers next week, the Astros get the talented but epically underachieving San Diego Padres this weekend before three vs. the inept A’s then three at the almost as inept Royals.
So the Astros are rolling with momentum as they open a weekend series at Minute Maid Park against the Padres! Like the momentum the Astros had after winning two games in Miami last month before coming home and having the Mariners sweep them three straight? Like the momentum the Astros had after whacking the Red Sox three straight in Boston last week before coming home to have the Yankees sweep them three in a row? For a ballclub of the Astros’ quality their 35-34 record at MMP stinks. It is jarringly weak in comparison to their spectacular 45-27 road mark. There is no logical explanation for it. They have simply played inferior baseball at home. Team ERA at MMP 4.08, everywhere else 3.77. Team batting average at MMP .252, everywhere else .268. Home OPS .734, everywhere else .801.
The most glaring individual disparities belong to the Astros’ two best hitters, Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez. Altuve has played in just under half of the Astros games to date (69 of 141) so maybe given a full season things would have balanced out more, but Altuve has a .267 average and .782 OPS at home, while on the road he’s pint-sized Hercules batting .355 with a 1.098 OPS. Granted, the five homers in two games in Arlington this week skewed those numbers a bit. Alvarez has solid home numbers with a .275 average and .841 OPS, but they pale relative to his .310 road average and 1.114 OPS.
All Astro hitters will be challenged in the Friday night opener vs. the Padres. The Friars (great unofficial alternate nickname. Hey, if the Padres ever acquired the Astros’ star right fielder he’d be Friar Tuck!) pitch Blake Snell, merely the best starting pitcher in baseball over the last three-plus months. Snell walks guys, but strikes out a lot more and gives up few hits. Over his last 19 starts Snell’s numbers are incredible: 1.31 ERA over 110 innings pitched with just 62 hits allowed, making for an opposing batting average of .165. He has walked 62 over the stretch while striking out 153. Snell’s 2.50 season ERA is the best in the big leagues among qualifiers. He’s in a two horse race with the Cubs’ Justin Steele for the National League Cy Young Award. In 2018 Snell won the AL Cy Young as a Tampa Bay Ray, beating out Justin Verlander. If Snell wins this year, he becomes the seventh pitcher to win at least one in each league. The most recent to achieve it was Max Scherzer, last seen as a chalk outline Wednesday night against the Astros. The others: Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Roy Halladay.
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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up at 4PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets such as: