In the bitter winter of 1777 the new born United States of America was on the very brink of annihilation. The small rump of what had been the proud Patriot army under George Washington was all but destroyed, and with its defeat would go the hopes and dreams of a virgin nation that represented a new birth of freedom. A great ideal in human history would die stillborn.
This army suffered military defeats before a much superior military force over which they seemingly had no hope to prevail. They lost battle after battle after battle. They survived starvation, frostbite; their only victory was that they endured to fight again.
Those were the times that tried men’s souls.
Yet they fought on. And eventually they prevailed.
It is obscene, blasphemous, to compare the travails of a baseball team to the sacrifice of heroes who gave everything and for whom we now owe everything.
I only bring up Valley Forge as an applicable moral lesson. Many are the voices in Astros fandom who, like many in 1777, are ready to concede, who think that a string of defeats is an irreversible trend leading to the abyss.
It’s only natural. Since the All Star game the World Champion Astros have a record of 10 -14. They have lost seven of their last eight games, six of them in miserable fashion to the very AL West rivals who are seeking to overcome them in the standings. The lowly A’s today did just that.
Today’s game could only be described politely as a humiliation. Since we’re not supposed to use sexist language here, I won’t say that the Astros were somebody’s bitch today. No, I won’t.
Since June 19th the Astros record is a mediocre 24-25. Since June 16th the A’s are 40-16. In the last seven days, while confronting determined rivals, the Astros bats have mostly gone quiet, hitting .199, with a wRC+ of 82. If the one game against Colorado, in which the Astros piled up 12 useless runs, were not counted, I’m sure these numbers would be far worse. The A’s, smelling blood, have a batting average of .274 during this time, and a wRC+ of 124.
Since the All Star break, the Astros are only slightly better, .222 BA and 93 wRC+. The A’s are hitting .258 with a wRC+ of 119. This means the Astros, hoping to repeat as World Champions, are hitting 7% below league average during this nearly one month period, while the A’s are hitting 19% above.
Ah, but the Astros have the pitching you say. Well since the All Star break, not so much. The Astros team ERA is 3.55, 7th in MLB, the A’s 3.01, 2nd.
So today the Oakland A’s caught the Astros in the standings. The A’s, a team playing at an elite level right now and have for some time, and the Astros, who have been mediocre for far too long, to put it kindly. As an Astros fan it is easy to think that once the A’s surpass the Astros they can never catch up again. The A’s have too much momentum. the Astros are falling apart. Something like this. (Forgive me, I know many of us have seen this video too many times)
Ok, having laid out the case for panic, let’s step back.
No doubt the Astros are slumping and the A’s are streaking. Every team experiences both during any given season. Right now the A’s are hot at the same time as the Astros are cold which is very frustrating if you are an Astros fan. It would be unprecedented if both trends continued for too much longer. Quite likely the A’s, who have undergone an emotional sprint to catch the Astros, are going to slow down once they have. Kinda like a basketball team that overcomes a 20 point deficit, and then falls apart again.
On the other hand, the Astros are better than this. At some point a spark will reignite their confidence.
And as bad as it seems right now, the Astros’ record of 74-49 is the same as it was last year at this juncture. The Astros were slumping pretty badly in August last year too. Their August wRC+ was 95. For this August so far it is 104. And the Astros did not have the pitching firewall they have now, with Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton at a level he has never experienced before.
With just a modest recovery from the recent hitting slump the Astros should resume winning. In games where the Astros have scored four or more runs they have a 60-12 record. That’s 72 games. In this recent slide the Astros have scored four or more runs only two out of eight games, winning only one. That will not last. The bats will come back. A healthy core four will help, of course. And when they do so will the wins.
On the other hand the A’s cannot be expected to continue their current pace until the end of the year. Better to be cold in August and hot in September than vice versa.
Am I guaranteeing the Astros win the division this year? No one can say that. I do think if the Astros win they will have to come from behind at some point, and that it will be a close race against a very good team. But let no one who saw this team beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in games two and five of the 2017 World Series say this season is over. These players do not quit.
As far as the game recap goes, Dallas Keuchel pitched poorly, allowing 5 runs in 5.2 innings. He and Brad Peacock allowed eight doubles. As bad as the pitching was, the bats were worse, managing only two hits, and only one infield hit before the ninth inning.
Tony Kemp, number 18, saved the Astros from a shutout with his fifth home run in the ninth today, August 18, 2018.
Do not think that Justin Verlander is not ready to put this team on his shoulders tomorrow and stop the skid. He faces the Oakland ace, Sean Manaea.
Game time 3:05 CDT.
Box score and videos here.