Last night, the Astros won 4-1 over the Orioles. It was the Astros' 30th win of the season. They were the first team in the majors to collect their 30th win, it just hours before the Cardinals joined the club with their 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks.
The Astros offense is in the top ten in runs scored, home runs (1st overall), total bases, RBIs, walks, stolen bases, and slugging percentage. Houston leads the league with 65 home runs, leading next team by four (Dodgers). Jose Altuve leading the All-Star vote for AL second baseman, batting .296 with 14 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Luis Valbuena leads the team with 10 home runs.
Dallas Keuchel looks like a Cy-Young award winner through ten starts with a 1.98 ERA. The rest of the starting rotation has keep the Astros in games. The newest addition, Lance McCullers, has looked sharp through two starts - allowing just 3 runs through 10 2/3 innings.
The bullpen has become a strength for the Astros, Houston has the second-best bullpen ERA (2.10) in baseball. They're only behind the Royals at 1.86 ERA. They're tied for the third-fewest blown saves this season (4).
With all this success, we asked our writers what they thought about the Astros reaching 30 wins.
This week's Starting Nine question:
The Astros are the first team in the majors to 30 wins. What's the first thing that comes to mind about that fact?
Jeff Luhnow fixed the bullpen. He tried last year, but was hit with some bad luck with the injuries to Albers and Crain. This year, he did it.
Sixty more to go.
Honestly, it's really cool, and a great story, but I don't want to leap out of my chair just yet. If nothing else, they've shown that they can be a competitive baseball team with the roster they have currently on the field. The minors are bursting with more talent, which is good because I'll be surprised if they're buyers at the deadline.
Overall, it's great. It's a lot of fun. But I don't want to get carried away too much. Maybe they're the 2012 Mets. I'm just trying to enjoy it while it lasts.
That hitting is going to get even better. This is a team that hasn't even peaked yet. When rosters expand to 40 in September, this team will be nearly unstoppable because of all the depth. Our pitching is going to regress but also be helped by midseason call-ups. Jeff Luhnow, thank you (and the rest of the FO) for being geniuses.
That Gattis and Springer are just now heating up. They got to 30 wins with those 2 playing average/below their expectations. With them getting better plus the prospects on the way the rest of the season may be even more fun.
That the process is working. Almost all the moves made by the FO have born fruit. The 2nd attempt to fix the bullpen worked, the kids are shining, and there is more coming. Oh, and the national media owes the Houston FO an apology. Because the decisions they made were the right decisions by and large. It's going to be good here for YEARS.
My favorite part is that they've done it with gattis, springer, and carter not mashing at the same time, and that they've done it without Obie who was a couple people's breakout player for the year. This team is ready to compete for a playoff spot with more talent on the way.
My first thought is to enjoy the moment. I think many will agree that being an Astros fan has involved plenty of optimism and hope for the future. Whether or not Houston maintains the best record in the American League, or at least a playoff spot, remains to be seen. But being an Astros fan isn't about the future any more. It's about right now, and right now Houston is in first place. And that's pretty cool.
I'm enjoying baseball again! That said, despite the best record in baseball, I have concerns about the offense. This team needs Lowrie back, and it needs more. How the roster will need to shake up to make that "more" happen, I'm unsure, but the Astros haven't been consistent enough at the plate to make me comfortable that this pace is sustainable.
We backed the right horse in the great Luhnow debate.
What's funny about the (often repeated) idea that the Astros offense has been somewhat lacking is this: only nine teams in all of baseball score more runs per game than Houston.
They're firmly in the top third and are just .2 or .3 runs away from second place.
Sure, the lineup could be better, if Springer, Gattis and Carter eventually come around. But, the biggest difference in years past is that they have other major league bats contributing. When two or three batters are your main source of offense (as has been the case in the past four Astros seasons), prolonged slumps from them can dramatically affect run scoring.
Now, Houston has a lineup almost bursting with major league hitters. If Carter is struggling, Luis Valbuena is there to hit home runs. If Springer goes cold, Colby Rasmus can provide some punch. When Altuve slumps, Jason Castro gets red-hot.
Carlos Correa won't just fix Houston's only real offensive weakness. He could make this team into the best offense in the league.
2012 Me just laughed for five minutes at 2015 Me writing that sentence. That's how ridiculous it is. But, it's not far from being a reality.
I don't care if it's petty; my first thought has been "suck it, haters!" We've heard nothing but whining, second-guessing and bashing from the national media, local media, and a large segment of the fan base for years, telling us how terrible Luhnow is, how greedy Crane is, and on and on. Logic, numbers, forward-thinking...none of that mattered to the people who wanted so hard not to believe.
Are they going to finish the year with the best (or nearly) record in baseball? We can't know that. But what we can know is that Luhnow is not, in fact, an idiot, and that Crane is not, in fact, motivated solely by his satanic greed, and that the plan has, in fact, worked. Like we, and everyone else willing to take a hard look at the situation and think outside the box, predicted it would. Heck, it worked even faster than we thought. We've lost very little of substantial value during the rebuild, brought in boatloads of talent, have the deepest farm in baseball, the best prospect in baseball, two of the top five picks this season, the best record in the AL, and the heart of our lineup is only just now starting to heat up at last. So yes, perhaps petty, but "suck it, haters!"
I was going to write, "I like it." And leave it at that. But that's not what readers want to read.
This team seems somewhat reminiscent of the 2012 and 2014 Baltimore Orioles teams, which were much better than the "experts" predicted. They rode some combination of HR power, defense, and an extremely good bullpen to beat their Pythagorean projections. The 2013 A's are another comparable team. I have this vision of the nerd cave running numerous computer simulations of this line up before the season started—and now smiling in satisfaction.
I can now wear my #process shirt unironically.
And to temper my expectations.
But mainly vindication. We are just over a quarter of the season, so I dare not make any sweeping proclamations (I learned my lesson long ago when I chanted "M-V-P" in week two of the 2004 season for Richard Hidalgo, as he started out on fire. His play took a nosedive soon after, and he didn't finish the season as an Astro. Sorry about that Doggie, I will take all of the blame on that one!). But as others have said, I wouldn't even consider our offense as "clicking" just yet, and we are still playing great baseball. As a fan, watching competitive baseball is just so darn refreshing. Going back to vindication, I am just wondering where the Peter Gammons' of the world are, where just about every single national media outlet mocked every move the Astros made, and scorned them for "disrespecting the game." I just wonder if they had a chance to get off their high horse, and at least understand and admit that there was logic behind each and every move (or non-move) that the Astros did. They may not agree with it, but there was still logic there.
Also a little vindication for myself. Check out this email from me on January 23, 2014:
Yes, I honestly believe we wanted to get the 1-1 pick again. I know this is a little conspiracy theory-esque, but I do feel that Luhnow let the bullpen be historically bad so they could add to our loss column. I also 100% agree with it, as it really was the best "strategy" for us in the whole scheme of things. This is the best way to lose but still get the most silver linings out of a loss. For example, your starter can go 6 strong, giving up 2 runs. He leaves the game up 4-2. He should take away plenty of positives out of that quality start. The offense also gave you 4 runs, and although not necessarily amazing, did enough to win that game. Then you let your bullpen implode, where they give up 6 runs, and you end up losing 5-8 (we tacked on an inconsequential run late). So the team as a whole walks away thinking, "we played well enough to win, and we just couldn't finish it off." At the end of the day, it accomplishes everything Luhnow and company wanted; we lost, which helped us obtain the 1-1 pick, but at the same time the team as a whole still played well, and you can pinpoint the blame to 1 or 2 (or 4) bullpen arms. Ultimately, I see it as the best way to lose, if that is even possible.
Maybe it is just confirmation bias here, but I do think that there is a method to the front office's madness, and I may just be crazy enough to get a thing or two right!
In any case, I am just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.