The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.
Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:
- 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- Carlos Beltran has 94 hits.
- 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
- Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
- 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
- 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
- Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
- 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.
Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)
Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.
Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.
Single season records can be reached without the need for a career filled with success. Players only need to have a single magical season to reach these marks. Think Roger Maris in 1961 or even a career year like Mark Fidrych in 1976. The toughest record to beat now may be the single season hits record. Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in 2004, finally topping George Sisler’s single season record of 257 hits that had stood since 1920. There have been 530 individual efforts where a player collected at least 200 hits in a season. Many players have had multiple 200 hit seasons, with Ichiro and Pete Rose holding the record with ten 200 hit seasons.
200 hits in a single season is not a rare accomplishment. We’ve seen, over the last several seasons, a handful of players collecting 200 hits. However, the Houston Astros have the talent to potentially do something no team has ever done by having four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season. Only three times in Major League history has a team had three teammates collect 200 hits in the same season, but never a fourth. The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1991 Texas Rangers had three teammates collect 200 hits. Teammates who are able to consistently hit and get on base does not necessarily translate to success. The 1963 Cardinals finished 2nd in the National League, 6 games behind the Dodgers for the Pennant. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. The 1991 Rangers finished 3rd in the American League West, 10 games behind the Twins. Success in baseball is a team effort. Simply having a third or more of your lineup hitting all season does not mean you can be lackluster elsewhere.
Jose Altuve is Houston’s best hitter. 200 hits a season is close to automatic. (Elaine Thompson, STF)
The 2017 Houston Astros could be the first team to have four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season thanks to the ABC’S. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Jose Altuve is a hitting machine, for whom not collecting 200 hits in a season would make it a down year. Altuve has collected at least 200 hits in three out of five full seasons in the Majors. Bregman has hit at every level in college and in the minors and should continue to develop into an outstanding consistent bat in the Houston lineup. Bregman played in only 146 minor league games after being drafted by Houston out of LSU. Starting at A Ball, Bregman batted .259, High A .319, AA .297, and AAA .333. Bregman can hit and he is starting to settle in with the Astros. Correa is a do it all super star in the making. Entering his third full season in the Majors, Correa continues to improve his strikeout to walk rate. Correa is still learning to hit at the Major League level and his strikeout rate should continue to decline. George Springer is an everyday player who can reach 200 hits simply by cutting down on his strikeouts and focusing on hitting singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences. In 2016, his first full healthy season in the Majors, Springer hit 29 doubles and 29 home runs with 88 walks and 178 strikeouts. If he can combine plate discipline to draw more walks and cutting down on his big swings to strike out less, perhaps down to 125 times a season, that may translate to 50 more balls in play each season. Springer collected 168 hits against those 178 strikeouts. 50 more balls in play could mean collecting 200 hits.
Alex Bregman is still getting comfortable in the Majors, but he has shown from college through the minors and in Houstn that he can hit. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The ability to hit and get on base will become slightly easier as opposing teams may prefer to face Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and/or Springer than give up crushing scores to the big bats behind them in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann can all launch a baseball over the fence with cautionary frequency. Every night at least two of the three power bats will be protecting Houston’s hit parade. Every night is a new nightmare for opposing pitchers. They’re faced with either a swift destruction from power or the drowning quicksand from a constant stream of singles here and doubles there.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has had George Springer leading off, setting the stage for Jose Altuve batting third and Carlos Correa batting fourth. Once the speed and contact have put the pressure on opposing pitchers Hinch has had Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and/or Evan Gattis batting fourth or fifth in nearly every game. Alex Bregman has most often worked to reset the stage by batting eighth, but he also has the second most at bats in the Astros lineup batting second or sixth. Bregman appears to be the utility batter for Houston as he can help the Astros turn the batting order over or he can fill in to help set the stage for Altuve, Correa, or the power of Beltran, McCann, or Gattis.
Is there anything Carlos Correa can’t do on the diamond? (Brace Hemmelgam/Getty Images)
There are three major factors that may hamper the quest for four single-season, 200-hit teammates for the 2017 Astros. First is the relative youth of Bregman, Correa, and Springer. Slumps and growing pains are often a matter of when, not if, especially for younger hitters. Every batter struggles at one point in their career in some way, past success does not guarantee future success. Second, injuries. The Major League season is a 162 game grind that breaks down even the strongest and toughest players in the world. The Astros are not immune to injuries and missing even a week or more could put 200 hits out of reach for a player. Third, Houston currently has an 8 game lead in the American League West over the Angels and the Rangers. Any sized lead can disappear over the next four months, but with each passing day the Astros make it a little more difficult to be caught. If the Astros run away with the West, A.J. Hinch could decide to rest his players down the stretch, meaning losing at bats and potential hits to rest them for the playoffs.
George Springer can hit plenty of home runs, but his greatest value for the Astros might be getting on base ahead of Houston’s sluggers. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)
There are plenty of ifs peppered in the scenario of the Astros having four teammates collect 200 hits in 2017. The Astros’ core is young, the years of tanking have finally provided Houston the draft positioning to get the team they sought all along. A young, dynamic team that is built to win both now and in the future. The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer may never collect 200 hits in a season, but 2017 seems to be the first real opportunity for them to make a run at this particular landmark record. The hit parade in Houston is fun to watch and so far has resulted in plenty of wins for the Astros. The hits record would be nice, but the Astros are only concerned with winning their first World Series.
This year’s Major League Baseball First Years Players Draft marks the 50th year of the draft. While the MLB Draft does not receive the same fanfare as the drafts for the other major sports, it is equally important. The major difference is the arrival of those selected to the parent clubs is not immediate, and in many cases never happens. The first overall pick in the draft can be a bust, and the last pick in the 40th and final round could turn out to be an All Star. It is a slow motion venture that teams do not know the results from until years later.
The inaugural draft was held in 1965. The Kansas City Athletics used the first overall pick to select outfielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State University. He would go on to have a 19 year career with the Kansas City/ Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Monday was a September call up for the Athletics in 1966 and played in two All Star games (1968 and 1978). Monday is most famous for his swiping an American flag away from two protesters who were trying to set it on fire on the field during the 4th inning of the Cubs-Dodger game on April 25, 1976 at Dodger Stadium.
The New York Mets held the second overall pick, and selected pitcher Les Rohr out of Billings West High School (Montana). Rohr was also a September call up, making his Major League debut on September 19, 1967. He earned the win against the Dodgers for the first of his two career wins (both coming in 1967). Rohr pitched in 6 career games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. He made his final Major League appearance on September 19, 1969, exactly two year after his debut.
The Houston Astros held the fourth overall pick in 1965, and selected shortstop Alex Barrett out of Atwater High School (California). Barrett spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. He played at every level possible in the minors, but never got the call to join the Astros in Houston. Barrett’s career is like so many hopeful draft picks. They believe in themselves, yet everyone is eventually told they can no longer play the game. Some people are told in high school, some are told after more than 20 seasons in the Major Leagues, but at some point everyone is told they can no longer play. It is rare for a player to leave under their own terms, it is often forced upon them rather than their own decision.
The MLB Draft is how teams obtain many of the building blocks to build their team. Look no further than the Houston Astros for a recent example or the Atlanta Braves for an example over the long term. The Astros have restocked their farm system and turned themselves around from the doormat of all of baseball into one of the best teams in the American League so far in 2015. The Astros had the first overall selection from 2012 through 2014. Carlos Correa just made his Major League debut, and they have been able to avoid drafting a complete bust. Their inability to sign Brady Aiken in 2014 meant the Astros picked second overall in 2015, in addition to their fifth overall selection, so they can still get a quality player out of a bad situation.
Every team aspires to emulate the Braves of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Winning 14 consecutive Division titles means a team will be selecting late in the draft. Atlanta and Houston have signed some free agents, but they have not been the sole driving force behind both teams success. Teams must scout, draft, and develop young talent well if they have any chance to sustain success. Few teams have the deep pockets that the Yankees and Red Sox have, and even their ability to spend top dollar on free agents does not always equate itself to success as much of their success has been driven by home grown talent. Teams need the ability to bring up their own talent from the minor leagues to fill in hole during the season. Finding players like Chipper Jones or Ken Griffey Jr. (both first overall picked) is not always as easy as it would seem. Mike Trout was the 25th overall pick in 2009, he is arguably the best player in all of baseball and most teams wish they could have a do over. If it was easy to discern what players would make it to the Majors and which would not, there would be a longer list of top picks who went on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers than did not. Currently there are no first overall picks enshrined in Cooperstown., Jones and Griffey will soon be the first.
The MLB Draft is an inexact science. Teams do and will make mistakes in their selections. They select the best player available to fit their needs, but there is never a guarantee that a first round pick will become the player the team hopes they would. There is no guarantee that the players selected this week will make it to the Majors, but their journey begins this week. Teams and fans can catch a glimpse of their future, or what they hope is their future, this week when the dreams of hundreds of baseball players come true.