By Will Martin
Less than two weeks remain in the 2014 regular season. A season of growth, progress, and of an upward climb. After three straight 100 loss seasons any kind of upward swing is a good thing.
This week Houston partakes in its final homestand of the season at Minute Maid Park before finishing out 2014 on the road.
Having just concluded a 5-4 road trip (taking two of three over the A’s and Mariners while dropping two to the Angels) it marked the second straight road trip the Astros played .500 ball or better. The went 5-5 on the previous road trip from August 14th-24th.
Since the All-Star break Houston has posted a 26-27 record. Of recent note Houston has won nine of its last 13 games, 15 of its last 25. If you go back to the series where all of baseball was introduced to George Springer (May 11) the Astros have played at a 55-57 clip in the last four months.
One year ago today the Houston Astros entered their next contest with a 51-97 record. Entering play September 15 this season, Houston has a record of 66-83.
Remember what this writer told you last March about the A.L. West going to be a competitive/improved division? The Angels have improved by 22 games over 2013 (1st in MLB), Houston by 15 games (3rd in MLB), Seattle upped their numbers by 14 games in the calendar year leading up to September 14th.
Only the Marlins are in between the A.L. West teams for overall improvement in one year!
The Cleveland Indians come to Houston for four followed by the Seattle Mariners for three. When September 21 arrives it will complete a stretch of 27 games in 31 days where Houston has taken on teams with a playoff aspiration.
The first twenty games went in favor of the Astros 11-9.
Houston By Way Of Dallas
Dallas Keuchel improved his overall record to 11-9 Sunday with a 6-1 victory over the Angels. He had a no-hitter going into the seventh stanza before allowing one run on three hits. Gregorio Petit cracked a three run homer in the second to give Dallas all the run support he would need.
Deadly Road Kill
Against the rest of the American League West, Dallas Keuchel has employed and enjoyed a 5-0 record with a 2.94 ERA on the road.
It Begins With Pitching
I mentioned how Houston has won nine of thirteen games of late for Tom Lawless. The starting pitchers posted a collective 2.28 ERA with a 7-2 record and ten quality starts.
In September only two ballclubs had better starting pitching if judging by just the ERA. Houston was 3rd at 2.55, topped only by Toronto (2.51) and Baltimore (1.85).
Jose, Jose, Jose Jose!
Ah, Jose Altuve!
This young man has my vote for MVP for 2014. Here’s a complete breakdown of all the records that are his and the history that now unfolds for the scrappy second sacker.
1. Two hits Sunday gave him SIXTY TWO multiple hit games in 2014!
2. At 206 hits for the season Altuve is four hits away from tying Craig Biggio for hits by an Astro in a season. Five more and the record is his!
3. Add 52 stolen bases and 42 doubles with the hit total. Mr. Altuve becomes the first ballplayer to reach those numbers since Ty Cobb did the same in 1917 (225 hits, 44 doubles, 55 steals).
4. Currently batting .339 (eight percentage points better than Victor Martinez at .331) Jose becomes the first Astro to win a batting title in the fifty plus years of Houston baseball.
5. Leading at batting average, hits and stolen bases Jose Altuve can become the first ballplayer to win all three of those categories since a rookie from Japan did the same in 2001. Yes… we speak of Ichiro Suzuki (.350 242 hits, 56 stolen bases).
5a. The overall record for hits by a second baseman in a season happened in 1922 (Rogers Hornsby). Since 1937 Rod Carew has amassed the most hits in a season by a second basemen (218) in 1974. Dustin Pedroia was impressive in 2008 (213) alongside Norm Cash in 1975 (213).
Rounding out the list of second basemen with over 200 hits since 1937 are Craig Biggio in 1998 and Steve Sax in 1986 (210), Alfonso Soriano in 2002, Pete Rose in 1965 and Bobby Richardson in 1962 (209) and lastly Mark Loretta with 208 in 2004.
Jose Altuve has a very good chance to surpass all those names save for Hornsby.
Chris Carter Goes Deep!
Since July 1-to quote Carly Simon-nobody’s done it better. 23 home runs, 55 rbi’s and a slugging percentage of .629 while enjoying an OPS of .993 in that time span. Carter has been so good at clearing the fences it’s rubbed off on the rest of the team as they currently sit third with 157. The most taters hit in a season since cranking out 165 back in 2008.
Baltimore leads that category with 191 followed closely by the Blue Jays at 168.
One week of Astros home cooking commences and ends this week with Cleveland and Seattle. If able, be sure to check them out. They have been the feel good story of 2014 for marked improvement. Since July 9, fourth place has been theirs and fourth place shall be how they finish.
In winding down the 2014 campaign there will be no fifteen game losing streak like there was in 2013. 75 wins is still a possibility. No 100 losses to fret over. Catch the Astros live and marvel at all the good things that happen the moment Jose Altuve gets on base. The kid is simply amazing…and he does it the right way!
9/16 vs Indians 7:10pm
9/17 vs Indians 7:10pm
9/18 vs Indians 7:10pm
9/19 vs Mariners 7:10pm
9/20 vs Mariners 6:10pm
9/21 vs Mariners 1:10pm