The first half of the 2016 season has been quite a roller coaster ride for Houston Astros fans. The Astros got off to an abysmal 17-28 start before catching fire to climb all the way to 48-41. That means they are the same number of games over .500 as they were at the All-Star break last year.
Team Performance over the First Half
In short, April was terrible, May was better, and the Astros have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since June 1.
|Month||Wins||Losses||Runs Scored||Runs Allowed||Winning Pct|
The Rangers' ability to win close games against the Astros contributed to the disappointment early in the season. Unfortunately, that is one thing that still hasn't changed. After starting to gain momentum in early May, the Rangers came to Houston and swept a 3-game series, winning the first two games by a score of 2-1. That put the Astros at their low water mark of the season (17-28).
The Astros went on to win 11 of 13 games following that series, but then had to face the Rangers in Arlington for a 4-game series. While they did finally get their first win against the Rangers of 2016, they lost the other 3 games.
Since May 15, the Astros are 32-11 against teams not named the Texas Rangers. With 9 games remaining against the Rangers and 5.5 games back, they must play better against their in-state rivals in the second half.
The significantly better record since April prompted the TCB writers to adopt the motto of "April Never Happened" for the 2016 season and Jason Marbach provided a logo.
First Half Recap by Position
Catcher: After trading Hank Conger to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash in the offseason, it was unclear who would serve in the back-up role (Castro being the obvious starter). There was talk of Gattis getting back behind the dish, but that was tabled when he had hernia surgery that caused him to miss the majority of Spring Training. It appeared that Max Stassi would get his shot until he needed surgery on his hamate bone.
So the Astros traded Dan Straily to the Padres for Erik Kratz. While Castro's offense has been better this year (due to a much higher walk rate), Kratz did what Erik Kratz does and posted an .069/.100/.103 slash line in 14 games with the Astros before being released on May 24th after clearing waivers.
By that time, Gattis rejoined the club after spending some time in the minors to practice catching. Since then, Gattis has split time between the DH and Catcher roles.
First Base: Feel-good story Tyler White won the first base job out of Spring Training and made an immediate impact. His blazing hot start was one of the few bright spots of the season's first couple weeks. Through his first 15 games, White was hitting .340/.404/.720 with 5 HRs and 12 RBI. MLB pitchers made adjustments, and White was eventually sent down in June after his slash line had dropped all the way to .211/.296/.386.
By that time, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Valbuena had been seeing more time at first base as well. AJ Reed eventually got the call and made his first start on June 25th. See our piece on Reed's early struggles for a deeper discussion of AJ's first few weeks in the big leagues.
Second Base: Jose Altuve has been playing at an MVP level this year. See our recent article on him to find out just how good he has been and how he is doing it.
Third Base: Luis Valbuena had a nice Spring Training to solidify himself as the starter, but got off to an awful start this season. At the end of April, Valbuena was batting .183/.290/.250 with a wRC+ of 50 (wRC+ of 100 represents league-average offense). His defense has been great as always, which made it easier to put up with the abysmal offense. Still, Colin Moran was called up in May to get his shot. He only lasted 6 games before being sent down though, posting a line of .105/.150/.105. By that time, Valbuena had really turned things around at the plate and has been able to maintain his hot stretch, playing the hero a couple time over this past homestand with late inning home runs.
Shortstop: 2015 Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa hit 3 home runs in his first 2 games, fueling the hype and lofty expectations that many had for him coming into this season. While he may not be playing at an MVP-level as some had suggested prior to the season, he is providing pretty good offense (118 wRC+) for a 21-year-old shortstop in his sophomore year. See what the TCB writers had to say about Carlos Correa meeting expectations in this Starting Nine post.
Outfield: George Springer seemed to be the spark that really got the Astros back on track when he was moved into the lead-off spot in the batting order on May 24th when the Astros were 17-28. After making numerous circus catches in the outfield while providing great offense (124 wRC+), Springer was one of 5 final vote candidates for the All-Star game and came in 2nd place.
Colby Rasmus became the first ever player to accept a qualifying offer last offseason and immediately paid big dividends in April. Rasmus posted a torrid 159 wRC+ in April, but quickly fell off a cliff in May (34 wRC+).
Carlos Gomez was one of the scapegoats of the early season struggles, and he certainly deserved some of the blame. After making only minimal contributions after the Astros traded for him in 2015, fans were anxious to start seeing positive results. His putrid 34 wRC+ in April and 23 wRC+ in May were compounded by some base running mistakes and fielding errors, which led to some time off and a minor league rehab assignment. Since then, Gomez has been playing much better baseball, posting a 120 wRC+ in June and striking out with less frequency in June/July than he did in April/May.
Jake Marisnick made occasional starts in the outfield with his most regular playing time coming in late May when Gomez was on the DL. He still provides highlight reel defense and speed on the basepaths, but has struggled mightily with the bat so far in 2016. Tony Kemp was also called up and received playing time while Gomez was on the DL. He made some nice contributions offensively, but was eventually sent back down in late June after a little over a month in the majors.
Designated Hitter: With Gattis starting the season on the DL, Preston Tucker got the early playing time at designated hitter and looked really good in the first couple series. He quickly cooled off though, and was sent down in May after batting .176/.213/.353 in April/May combined.
Gattis made starts at DH after coming off the DL, but was eventually sent to the minors to practice catching. Tyler White made some starts at DH and the Astros have also used the DH to give other position players like Springer and Altuve a day off defensively. Gattis typically hits in the DH spot when he isn't catching, but this is definitely an area in which the Astros need to improve. Gattis only has a 79 wRC+ on the season and the DH position for the Astros has a slash line of only .178/.273/.320 for the season.
Starting Pitching: McCullers started the season on the DL with shoulder soreness and the rotation was Keuchel, McHugh, Fiers, Feldman, and Fister. Every starting pitcher struggled to start the season as the rotation posted ERAs of 5.10 in April and 4.70 in May. Feldman was moved to the bullpen in May and Devenski made a few starts, but was eventually moved back into the bullpen once McCullers returned from the DL. Starting pitching has been much better in June and July with ERAs of 3.30 and 3.59, respectively.
Bullpen: Giles was thought by many to be the Opening Day closer, but Hinch decided that Gregerson would keep his job. Giles struggled mightily to start the season, which you can read more about here. Gregerson eventually lost the closer job in early June after 5 blown saves, and Will Harris has been closing most games since then.
Harris has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball this year, which earned him a spot on the All-Star roster. He hadn't given up an extra base hit all year until his blown save last Friday against the A's.
Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz have also been very effective out of the bullpen this year, especially considering that they are rookies. Feliz has been un-hittable in many of his appearances and Hinch has used him in a unique way this year, as explained further in this post.
First Half Highlights
Finally, let's re-live some of the key moments so far in 2016.
May 29: After sweeping the Orioles, the Astros split the first two games in Anaheim to climb to 21-29. The Astros and Angels went into extras in the rubber match. Carlos Correa sat on the bench until the 13th inning, when he decided that 13 innings was long enough:
June 1: The Astros were on a 4-game winning streak after the 13-inning win over the Angels and winning the first 2 games of a 4-game set against the Diamondbacks. In the next game though, Luke Gregerson blew a 3-run lead in the 9th inning. Springer had his back though:
June 8: After losing their first 8 games against the Rangers, the Astros finally broke through for a win to get to 29-32 on the season:
June 21: About a month after hitting their low mark of 17-28, the Astros had climbed within one game of .500 at 35-36. They trailed the Angels by 2 runs going into the 9th inning, but Correa came up with the bases loaded and nobody out and did Correa things to put their record at an even 36-36:
July 8: The Astros held a comfortable 7-4 lead heading into the 9th. Will Harris suffered his first blown save and the A's scored a total of 5 runs to take a 9-7 lead. Marwin Gonzalez bunted into a groundout, Altuve singled and took second on defensive indifference, Correa struck out but made it to first on a pitch that got away from the catcher, and then this happened:
Keep the highlights coming Houston!