Houston Winning Ways Defy Successful Baseball Formula

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Astros Major League Surprise Team Of Year Thus Far

By John Ventola

Last year I posted a blog about a surprising Kansas City Royals team that was playing solid baseball through the first three months of the 2014 season and seemed to have the capability to contend for the American League Central crown, or at least a shot at a wild card spot in the league’s playoffs. The Royals went on to secure the wildcard spot, work their way through the playoffs, win the American League pennant, and battle the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. That Royals team lost in the Series, but have continued their excellent play this season.

Now another AL surprise team, the Houston Astros, has joined them as a club that seems to have found the magic winning potion. While Kansas City used a well-rounded

batter

Power And Speed Key To Early Season Success

offense, defense and excellent relief pitching, Houston has gone through its first half (81 games) of 2015 winning by leading the major leagues with 113 home runs, leading the American League with 61 stolen base (Cincinnati leads the majors with 81), getting outstanding pitching from two starters, and shutdown relief pitching by a deep bullpen crew.

The approach has been different, but the results posted both seasons by Kansas City and this year by Houston have been the same. Winning baseball. Kansas City, 44-31, is playing at a .587 clip this season as the Royals continue their winning ways, while the Astros (47-34) are surprising followers of the sport with their .580 winning percentage. This despite an eight-game losing streak along the way. Kansas City leads the AL Central by five games over Minnesota and six games over Detroit. Houston, meanwhile, tops the AL West, leading the Los Angeles Angels by four games and Texas by five and a half games.

Pennants are not won by leading leagues when July 4th is celebrated. In fact, many teams through the years have led leagues on that date, and faltered miserably over the final half of the season. Kansas City and its approach stayed the course last season.

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KC Has Game Plan Down Pat, Astros Trying To Define Theirs

The Royals have featured better overall balance during their year and a half run, using their diversified strengths to avoid losing streaks.

Houston, as I pointed out last season with Kansas City, has accumulated a nice mix of young talent and veteran players. The farm system has been producing, veterans have found Minute Maid Park to their liking, and pitching ace Dallas Keuchel has had a complete career turnaround in two seasons.

Houston—you no longer have a problem—at least not with your baseball team!

The dynamic duo of first baseman Jeff Bagwell and Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio led the Astros to a National League pennant in 2005. The “B” Boys were synonymous with Houston baseball for twenty years, and the pennant came as their careers were trailing off. Time since that year have found the Astros in rebuilding mode.

The team, and the Houston fan base, has been abuzz this spring with excitement about the play of young Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa, the franchise’s No. 1 draft

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Houston’s Young Talent Very Impressive

choice in 2012. Correa has been spectacular defensively while hitting .286 with five home runs in 22 games since his call up from the minors. George Stringer, the No. 1 draft choice in 2011, is playing solid outfield while hitting .264 with thirteen home runs and thirteen stolen bases. Steady second baseman Jose Altuve, who led the majors in base hits last year, is batting .292 with 21 stolen bases, and has given Houston a solid double-play combo up the middle.

The Astros are averaging over 4.4 runs a game, an offense that revolves around home run power, and stolen bases. Except for Altuve, the hitting has been sporadic. Third baseman Luis Valbuena has 19 home runs, but is batting .199. First baseman Chris Carter is batting .197 with 14 home runs. Outfielder Colby Rasmus has chipped in 10 home runs, and Evan Gattis 13 homers as the Astros work the long ball and speed for their runs. Catchers Jason Castro, the teams top draft pick in 2008, and Hank Conger have been solid behind the plate. The team ranks 26th out of 30 major league teams with a team batting average of .240. The team leads the majors with 742 strike outs.

Dallas Keuchel, 27, and Collin McHugh, 28, lead Houston’s mound staff with 10-3 and 9-3 records, respectively.  Both have turned around their careers with the Astros. In his last two starts, Keuchel shut out the New York Yankees while striking out 12, and shut

Lefthander Keuchel Has Pitched 17 Consecutive Shutout Innings

Lefthander Keuchel Has Pitched 17 Consecutive Shutout Innings

out Kansas City for eight innings in a pair of 4-0 shutouts for Houston. Keuchel, nicknamed The Beard because of his impressive facial hair growth, has combiled a 2.03 earned run average (ERA) in his 17 starts. McHugh has a 4.51 ERA in 16 starts, but has benefitted from more offensive support.

Kuechel was drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 draft out of Arkansas. After having little or no success with San Diego and the Chicago White Sox, Kuechel’s mound work came together once he arrived in Houston. He posted a 2.93 ERA in 29 starts in 2014. McHugh had an 11-9 ledger for the Astros in 2014, after going 0-8 in brief appearances with the Mets for two years and Colorado for one season. He has now chalked up 20 victories in his one and a half seasons in Houston.

Former LSU player Will Harris, a ninth round selection by Colorado in 2006 after pitching sparingly for the Tigers, is leading the Astros relief corps with a sparkling .099 ERA and 4-1 record. He has appeared in 31 games, and he and his bullpen mates have been able to piece together a number of wins and successful save opportunities.

The future looks bright for Houston Astros baseball. The team drafted LSU All-American

LSU

Alex Bregman Should Be In Show By Late 2016

shortstop Alex Bregman with the No. 2 overall pick in the recent major league draft. Bregman, after some short term minor league seasoning, should provide another weapon. Whether it is shortstop, second base, or third base, Bregman’s talent calls for a major league starting position. I personally see an Altuve, Bregman switch in the future—Altuve and Bregman either at second or third base, respectively.. One thing for sure the trio of Correa, Altuve, and Bregman will make quite an infield.

The chances that a team can make it to the playoffs with two dependable starters, and that the team’s major league leading power statistics and stolen base percentage would be maintainable are highly improbable.

Houston is once again on a mission. Maybe Mission Control can keep it going for another four months. It should be interesting to watch!

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