The Houston Astros are the hottest team in baseball right now. They have the best overall record (26-12) and are ranked within the top 5 in Batting Average, Home Runs, OBP, OPS, ERA, pitching Strikeouts, and WHIP. Obviously leading in each of these categories is a good enough recipe to make any ball club a winner, but lets take a look at just what makes the 2017 Houston Astros so good at the moment.
For the past two seasons the Astros were largely a feast or famine type of hitting team. It was either home run or strikeout. Not so with the 2017 Astros. In fact, there was one category I purposely left out and that was they also rank 26th in hitting Strikeouts, which is very good. This is one category where you DO NOT want to be ranked within the top 5. Each member of this lineup is a threat, but also has worked the count a lot more than in previous seasons. It’s very rare to see an Astro batter swing at the first pitch into a grounder or pop fly, or just go 0-3. This has been pivotal for the Astros because no longer are they stranding runners, as they have been quite good with RISP this season. They’ve fought back in games where they never held a lead until the inevitable comeback inning, while other games they’ve scored very early to put the game to rest. This is a totally different team with different DNA right now. George Springer has solidified himself as the “leadoff home run hitter,” and has continually assaulted pitchers in the 1st inning. He did so again on Derek Jeter Night when facing Masahiro Tanaka, bringing his home run total to 9 in that game. While Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, and Jose Altuve each have 5 home runs and lead their team with a combined .292 batting average.
While hitting is absolutely important in a successful baseball club, defense and player versatility are just as important. AJ Hinch is in the unique position right now to adapt his team to any situation. Utility players like Marwin Gonzalez, who made MLB history this season after homering 4 straight games while playing a different position each of those games, can be plugged into any position save catching duties. Not only can he do this, but his defense is very solid and his hitting has improved overall (he’s tied with George Springer in team home runs). Hinch also has Jake Marisnick, an elite defender who can play all positions in the outfield. Just last week, in the first game of the Yankees series, Hinch substituted Nori Aoki to put in Jake Marisnick as an insurance policy in a very close game. And wouldn’t you know it, it payed off when bottom of the 9th the tying run is sliding to home plate but Marisnick throws a laser beam to Brian McCann to get the out and end the game. That’s been this Houston Astros team all season. They’re a very versatile team. When they need power, they have it. When they need pitching, they have it. And when they need defense, they have it.
The bullpen has been nothing short of stellar this season. With relief pitchers likes Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Ken Giles, it’s been very hard to make a comeback against the Houston Astros if you fall behind them. Both Devenski and Harris have been Hinch’s tried and true workhorses, with a combined 0.97 WHIP in 39.3 combined innings pitched thus far. While Giles has 10 saves in 11 save opportunities and is shaping up to be the closer we always knew he could be. It seems everything is falling into place for this Astros bullpen, even the backend has been more than serviceable. Newcomer James Hoyt, Astros veteran Brad Peacock, and Michael Feliz have a combined WHIP of 1.02 in 34.6 combined innings. Mix this with arguably the best pitching duo in baseball right now (Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers), arguably the best batting lineup in baseball right now, and you have yourself a damn fine team.
Can I just say that Brian McCann has been a godsend to this Astros organization. Not only is he seeing a revival in his hitting abilities, which he displayed in game two against his former Yankee teammates after launching a three-run homer to right field to break a scoreless tie, but he’s also every bit the intelligent, prototypical elite catcher you’d expect one to be. He wanted to come to Houston, and he’s delivering on every level so far. In fact, I truly believe the Astros pitching staff is all the more better with McCann game calling behind the plate. It was interesting to me that they went out and got a star catcher when Evan Gattis was sure to stay. I thought, okay just have Gattis DH of course and McCann behind the plate. But with the acquisition of Carlos Beltrán, it was apparent that Hinch was going to have to rotate both catchers every game or two. Both are doing well at the plate currently, Gattis hitting .288/.363/.463 with 18 RBI’s and 3 HR’s, while McCann has a batting line of .270/.368/.460 with 21 RBI’s and 6 HR’s. Not many teams can say they have two solid catchers who can hit.