It's been a crazy month for the Astros. A crazy-good month. A month that exceeded the wildest expectations of every fans hopes and dreams. Coming into the season nobody predicted this month. NOBODY. Jeff Luhnow's megabase might have predicted this with a 5% chance of happening, but outside of a top of the line statistical database no one would have predicted this outcome. Let's go over what you already know:
1. The Astros ended April in first place in the western division with a record of 15-7. This in and of itself is a ridiculous statement that no one thought they would writing until at least 2017.
2. That 15-7 record was a half-game shy of being good for the BEST record in the AL, which belonged to the Royals.
3. The Astros have been led by an amazing pitching staff, most notably Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh who are both really good.
Some things you may not know, and some things that the Astros have never done before:
1. At 8-1 the Astros finished their best west coast road trip ever.
2. They swept the A's for the first time in team history
3. The last time they swept the Padres was in 2009.
4. They scored a ridiculous 54 runs in the the last 7 games of April
So not only are the Astros winning, but they're doing it in historic and ridiculous fashion. Take last Wednesday's game against the Padres for instance. In the top of the ninth, with the Astros up 4-1, Jake Marisnick steals 2nd base after hitting a single to score Chris Carter. Marisnick is loudly booed by Padres fans in what could seem like an attempt to run up the score. The game was still close, but after getting dismantled by Dallas Keuchel for 8 innings and on the verge of being swept you could see the home crowd's point. The Padres didn't feel like they had much of a chance to score during the entire game.
That's not how Jake Marisnick and the Astros felt though. They wanted that sweep. They wanted it so badly that they took the Padres bullpen by the jugular and ripped it open in a bloody run-scoring mess. So what does Marisnick do after getting booed for his base pilfering? He steals third, and with a throwing miscue from Padres catcher Wil Nieves, he runs home to score the Astros' 5th run.
Sensing the blood in the water, and the jittery play of the Padres defense, Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve pound out more hits and score two more runs on throwing errors by the Padres to put them down for good. It was swagger, it was villainy, it was fun, it was energetic, it was glorious, and it was Astros baseball unlike anything we've seen in a long time. From being the butt of every joke around the league to waltzing into Petco Park like the Cobra Kai, the 2015 Astros came in and they swept the leg.
80's movie villain cliches aside, this team is playing with such great energy right now that they should be a joy to watch for any baseball fan. The great pitching, the extra base hits, the quality defensive play, and the running game, everything that makes baseball exciting the Astros have done in spades this month. If you haven't caught any of the games on TV yet you really owe it to yourself to see them play. Unlike previous seasons you can really tell that this team is having a lot of fun.
So to recap, what went right for the Astros in April?
-Pretty much everything. Pitching, Offense, Defense, Bullpen, all checks.
So....did anything go wrong?
-Yes, actually. What should be the heart of the order in Springer, Gattis, and Carter all hit poorly with ugly slash lines. But...considering that the Astros still had a competent offense with these three contributing little to nothing is that actually good news? Well, it's a silver lining at least. If those three hit their strides this could be a dangerous team.
What can we expect from the Astros in May?
More winning, hopefully. They're off to a good start as they've only lost 1 game in May as of this writing. The Astros probably will come back down to earth eventually, but the good news is that the stats show they really aren't due for much negative regression on an individual level. Yes, Keuchel will probably start to give up a few runs here and there, and Marisnick is probably not Ted Williams, or Jose Altuve for that matter, but they have positive regression candidates in Carter, Gattis, and Springer to help balance that deficit.
The really crazy part? The team's top prospects that were meant to lead the way aren't even up yet. The Altuve/Castro/Springer/Keuchel core of this team are all Ed Wade guys surrounded by a Jeff Luhnow supporting cast. The Luhnow regime absolutely gets credit for developing these guys as major leaguers, but the highest ceiling prospects that fans have put their hope into are still playing in the minors. If the Astros can continue playing at anything resembling this pace AND have a Correa or Appel late season call-up? That should be a scary thought to every other team in the AL West. The team's best days are still likely ahead of them.
Winning is back in Houston, and more importantly as the Astros are showing, so is fun.
Fangraphs Playoff Odd at April's end: 48.4%