The last 10 days have seen the Astros play some of their best baseball of the season.
June 21 was the beginning of their challenging nine-game stretch against the Yankees and Mets — two of the league’s best teams who rank first and fifth in runs scored, respectively — and now on the other side of it, the defending American League champions have come away with a record of 7-2, including an exceptional 41-21 run differential.
The starting rotation pitched 59 1⁄3 innings of 1.52 ERA ball, allowing just 28 hits and compiling a quality strikeout-to-walk ratio of 53/15 in the process. It was a dominant display of exquisite pitching, which fittingly featured a combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium on June 25.
In terms of ERA, only the Yankees pitching staff bests the Astros among all 30 teams.
Justin Verlander has a 2.03 ERA in 97 1⁄3 innings, a total that has him behind only Miami’s Sandy Alcántara and Seattle’s Robbie Ray, each of whom have one more start (16) than the Astros ace (15).
Cristian Javier, whose tremendous effort in New York led to the club’s first no-hitter since Verlander blanked the Blue Jays in September 2019, has emerged in a big way and looks to have the makings of a potential front-line starter. Even before Javier dismantled the Yankees lineup, he was listed as the 18th-best starting pitcher in baseball according to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris ($).
As for the other arms in the stable, Framber Valdez has continued to pitch with remarkable consistency, as he’s gone at least six innings in all but two of his 15 starts (both were early in the season in April), while allowing three or fewer earned runs in all but one start.
Luis García, whose cutter has the fourth-highest whiff rate among all pitch types (min. 100 pitches), has settled nicely into the middle of the rotation and could have a considerable amount of untapped potential, given his age (25) and relative inexperience.
José Urquidy, meanwhile, has quietly righted the ship his last three outings after ditching a new cutter in favor of his old slider, giving up just five runs across 19 innings.
Astros starters are not without their flaws, considering their FIP collectively is 3.72 while their ERA is 3.10, but at the same time, only the Yankees and Guardians have a better team DRS, meaning that FIP-ERA gap might not be indicative of future regression.
Regarding the future itself, it seems time could only benefit the Astros pitching troupe.
Recovering from injury, Jake Odorizzi will serve as solid depth once he completes his ramp-up at Triple-A Sugar Land, and then in the coming months, it’s possible that Lance McCullers Jr., ace of the 2021 staff, will make his return after suffering a flexor strain during last year’s playoffs.
The 2017 All-Star reportedly hit 93 mph in a live BP session on June 25 and has been steadily progressing in his now months-long rehab. Though no official date has been set for him to pitch in live games in the minor leagues — the final test he must pass before rejoining the big club — it’s feasible that he returns sometime before the postseason begins in October.
Entering Friday, the Astros have an 11.5-game lead in the AL West, as well as a seven-game lead over the Twins for the No. 2 seed in the AL, which comes with a first-round bye. It seems the Astros, fueled by their pitching, are well on their way to securing a spot in the ALDS.