The Astros have not been kind to my emotional well-being this year. After waiting almost a full 6 months to watch our team begin their journey toward a predicted World Series berth, Opening Day was delayed. Then, the wheels fell off almost instantly and we were left dumbstruck. SABR-minded individuals pointed out that despite the win-loss record, some of the Astros' stats still indicated that this was a good team. Still, their record left many (including this writer) wondering if the team had been over-hyped.
After seeing some positive signs through the first part of May, I was able to maintain hope that perhaps this season would somehow be more magical than the last. And then, it happened. The Rangers rode into town and did what they have been doing since August of last year. When the smoke had cleared, the Astros' record stood at 17-28, a daunting 11 games under .500.
Despite the rumors and speculation about team chemistry and Hinch's ability to manage the clubhouse, the players proved that they still believed in themselves. Hinch flipped Altuve and Springer at the top of the lineup and the Astros went on to win 11 of their next 13 games. After dropping the first 2 of a 4-game series in Arlington, the Astros are now 4 games under .500, having gone 28-32 in their first 60 games of 2016.
Grinding It Out
So how did the Astros improve to only 4 games under .500 after being 8 games under through 30 games (11-19)? It didn’t come easy. They played in and won more closely-contested games than they had in their first 30 games.
|Games 1-30||Games 31-60|
|Record in 1-run Games||3-4||6-7|
|Record in Extra-Inning Games||0-1||6-2|
Since only going into extras once in their first 30 games (and losing), the Astros have played 8 extra-inning games, winning 6 of them. A whopping 62% of their losses in the last 30 games have been one-run games. They have been grinding it out more consistently and keeping the pressure on the opposing team until the final out of the ball game. Just like last night, they don't go down without a fight.
Keys to the Turnaround
Starting pitching was horrendous in the early going, and the bullpen had its struggles as well. Both have improved greatly, especially the bullpen which set a strikeout record in the Orioles series. After allowing 4.9 runs per game in the first 30 games, the Astros have held their opponents to almost a full run less (4.0 runs/game) in the last 30. Combine this with the fact that the offense has been scoring at a higher rate (4.2 runs/game compared to 4.4 runs/game) and it’s easy to see why the Astros’ last 30 games have had such better outcomes.
Speaking of the offense, George Springer and Evan Gattis have played big roles in the Astros’ recent success. Gattis smacked 8 HRs in 18 games after a minor league stint to prepare for backup catching duties. In the first 9 games after moving Springer into the leadoff spot, he scored 8 times, hit 4 longs balls, and drove in 8 runs.
Still 102 Left to Play
With 102 games left to play, the Astros definitely aren't out of the playoff picture just yet. The outlook is better than it was when they were sitting at 11-19 after 30 games. The graph below shows the total season wins of teams that started the season with 27-29 wins in their first 60 games (a bigger dot means multiple teams at that location).
Keep in mind that these comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt. Many of these teams were probably mediocre to average teams and 28-ish wins out of 60 games was just what they were capable of, so they continued that level of play (or worse) for the remainder of the season. Still, 29% of such teams ended with winning records and almost one fifth (19%) won more than 85 games (the Astros needed 86, the orange line in the graph, to clinch the second AL Wild Card in 2015).
I still believe this team has alot of potential. Over the last 30 games, the Astros have had some comebacks and walk-off wins that almost made me feel like it was 2015 again... almost. Here's hoping they continue to play exciting baseball AND FIND A WAY TO BEAT THE STINKING RANGERS!!!