Only 13 games into a strenuous long 162 game season, the Houston Astros have begun their first title defense about as well as could be expected or hoped for. With wins in the first three series against Texas, Baltimore (a three game sweep), and San Diego, Houston is positioning itself well for the rest of the season.
Here are the three Astros that have exceeded expectations, and three that have not so far in 2018:
1. ) Gerrit Cole
Most of the preseason hype for this year’s Astros team revolved around the starting rotation, especially after the acquisition of Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh. Thus far, all good signs as they have combined for a 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA. Not only has Cole been lights out in an Astros uniform, his 22 K’s through two starts is a record high for a pitcher that is new to the club. Additionally, Astros starters are giving up well less that one home run per nine innings (0.70) and have put together a stellar K% of 29.1%.
2.) Josh Reddick
“WOO” is right. After making it through the opening four game set with the Rangers without a hit, the veteran outfielder took to twitter for good luck by sending a tweet continuously proclaiming “I WILL GET A HIT”. It worked.
After ripping a single in the late stages of a home opener win against Baltimore, Reddick erupted in game two of the series with two home runs (a two shot blast in the sixth and a grand slam in the seventh), along with a home run robbery in right field, leading to an up-and-down 10-5 victory for Houston. He finished the week with providing an exclamation point to a series clinching win yesterday over the Padres with a sixth inning solo shot.
3.) The Catchers
Entering the 2018 campaign, you would be hard pressed to find someone who would describe the catching corps for the Astros as a particular strength. The decision to start Max Stassi on the 25-man roster was more of a functional choice that could provide some rest for Brian McCann and some more options against left-handed pitching while Evan Gattis mainly focused on an expanded Designated Hitter role.
What happened instead is McCann and Stassi starting red hot with lines of .308/.419/.308 and .368/.455/.632, respectively. Stassi even showed some power with a three run shot in the fifth inning in yesterday’s game against San Diego that put the Astros on top.
1.) Ken Giles
Arguably theAstros player whose consistency will be most important to a possible repeat this season, Giles has seemingly started where he left off last fall. In five appearances thus far, none of which being save opportunities, the Astros closer has struggled to the tune of a 4.50 ERA (2 ER in 4 IP).
His fastball is almost an entire MPH less than last year, which is concerning since he is throwing it 20% more than he did throughout last year so far. It’s early and it could be much worse but continued struggles from Giles could lead to skipper A.J. Hinch having to get creative in the ninth inning going forward.
2.) Alex Bregman, at the plate
Bregman is not completely unfamiliar with slow starts. Last season, Bregman suffered a similarly slow beginning of the season, which ceremoniously ended with a thundering grand slam at Yankee Stadium on Mother’s Day which laid the ground work to a very good 2017 campaign overall. This year, the Astros third baseman’s slow start at the plate has him saddled with a .245/.373/.367 line through 13 games.
It is worth noting that Bregman’s play defensively has been phenomenal. His range from the hot corner has clearly been elevated as he has executed web gem after web gem. Absolutely no reason for panic here as Bregman will almost certainly break out of this slump, but it is notable to see what the Astros have done thus far without his production at its normal levels.
3.) George Springer
One of the two Astros with a negative WAR through 13 games, Springer has not been able to quite keep up with his notoriously hot start on Opening Day when he took Cole Hamels yard on just the third pitch of the new season. It was the first time in MLB history that a player hit a lead off homerun on consecutive opening days.
Since then, Springer has not been able to stay above the Mendoza line and has an elevated K% of 26.2%. One of the keys to the Astros success last season was their historic ability to cut down on strikeouts at the plate, largely because of Springer’s increased discipline in decreasing his K% from 2016 by an astounding 6.3%. Much like Bregman, there’s absolutely no reason to be concerned about Springer’s slow start.