Small sample size alert! The Astros are through just four games of the 162-game season, but their early-season performances show hope for the season to come. The team that finished third in the AL West last season opened the 2017 campaign with a four-game set at home against the division-rival Seattle Mariners and came out of it with a 3-1 record and sitting atop the division.
What could provide the most optimism for the team is how those wins came about. The Astros didn’t rely on their vaunted lineup to get their wins; it was the pitching — which disappointed last year — that was most impressive in the first games of the season, led by Opening Day starter SP Dallas Keuchel, who is coming off a subpar season after winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2015. He allowed 2 hits in seven scoreless innings en route to a season-opening 3-0 shutout. Then Lance McCullers struck out seven and allowed just one run over six innings, leading the Astros to a 2-1 win on Tuesday.
It was Charlie Morton’s turn on Wednesday, making his team debut and coming off a season in which he made just four starts with the Phillies. He lasted six innings, giving up five hits and two runs, with four strikeouts in a game that went into extras, with Houston winning, 5-3, in 13 innings. In the final game of the series on Thursday, Joe Musgrove struggled a bit in his season debut. He went five innings and allowed five hits, three walks and two runs while striking out two batters.
Closer Ken Giles got off to a good start after struggling last year, recording a 4.11 ERA. He successfully converted both of his save opportunities but didn’t fare so well on Thursday. He was charged with the loss in the series finale, allowing two ninth-inning runs to score in a 4-2 loss. Chris Devenski helped keep the Astros in Wednesday’s game when they were trailing, striking out seven in four scoreless innings. Overall, the bullpen has allowed three runs through the first four games.
The Astros added offensive depth this winter — with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick joining the team — but it’s an Astros mainstay who’s been leading the offense. George Springer hit a leadoff home run on Opening Day and launched a walk-off three-run homer to win the 13-inning game on Wednesday night. Then on Thursday, he hit another leadoff home run. Overall, he’s hitting .313 with the three homers and seven runs batted in. Other than Marwin Gonzlez — who is 3-for-7 with two home runs– the rest of the lineup has struggled early on, with the usually reliable Jose Altuve just 3-for-17, including an 0-for-6 performance in Wednesday’s extra-inning affair.
With two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning, George Springer ends the game by crushing a three-run homer to give the Astros the win
As I said in my Astros season preview, the team needed good pitching to succeed this season, and they’re getting it so far. While the offense is struggling, you have to think they’ll pick things up sooner than later with some of the hitters they have. Assuming that happens and the strong pitching continues, the Astros certainly could be the team to beat in the AL West. As it is, two-time defending division champion Rangers were swept by the Indians in their opening three-game series, giving Houston an early lead over them and the Mariners, who finished second in the division a year ago.
The Astros continue their homestand this weekend with three games against the Royals before heading up to Seattle for another series against the Mariners.