By Will Martin
The Houston Astros of 2014 would go into the All-Star break with at least 40 wins pending what happened with the finale of a three game set with the American League East cellar dwelling Boston Red Sox.
This on the heels of a three game sweep of the ballclub that now occupies the American League cellar. If only for a moment or a week or so.
The Astros of 2013 were only able to win 33 games before the break last year. Their inaugural season in the A.L. West.
It was exactly one year ago that Bo Porter went with a fearsome foursome of rookies who provided quality starts despite late game fails by the bullpen and defensive miscues.
Translation: If this team can play .500 or a little better and avoid a 15 game skid to end the season, 2014 will be a 70-75 win season and you can start to get excited about the future.
If there wasn’t a Cuban sensation named Jose Abreu getting all the glory as a rookie with the Chicago White Sox (29 HRs, 73 RBIs) all the talk in the majors would be about center fielder George Springer with his 19 homers and 50 RBIs. Winning has become a given when Springer goes deep.
The Astros are 13-5 when George does exactly that.
Six homers by Chris Carter are the most in the majors for July. The Astros as a team have planked 103 homers. This is the fourth best output for going deep topped only by the Astros of 2000 (127), 2001 (134), and 2003 (108).
One adjustment of late has been the insertion of Jason Castro in the #2 spot behind Jose Altuve. In his last five games Castro has gone 9 for 22 with two doubles, a triple, a homer, 4 rbis, and a slugging percentage of .727!
I remember a time in 1976 when the Oakland Athletics went crazy with the stolen bases to the tune of 347. That is still a record. The Astros of 2014 currently sit in second place with 77 steals, 1 behind the Kansas City Royals. 41 of those steals are courtesy of Jose Altuve. If Altuve stays healthy he will rewrite the record book for Astros results in a season for hits, average, and stolen bases.
130 hits and 41 stolen bases before the All-Star break are also major league firsts according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Last week I saw Houston’s Jarred Cosart and Dallas Keuchel get victories over the Rangers in a three game sweep. The victories gave Cosart and Keuchel nine wins each before the All-Star break. You have to go back to 1999 for the last time Houston had that amenity. Mike Hampton (11-3), Jose Lima (13-4), and Shane Reynolds (11-6) made that a reality.
Dallas Keuchel, Jarred Cosart, even hard luck hurler Brett Oberholtzer all have the chance to get to 15 wins this season. Saving the final piece of the puzzle for last Houston’s bullpen by committee is starting to show some mettle. Chad Qualls now has ten saves on his resume. Tony Sipp is a tough lefty able to come into a game late and get the four out save if needed.
Jose Veras indeed might cause stomach upsets at times. When he is on that’s three quality relievers who can close out games. Middle relievers Josh Zeid and Darin Downs keep improving with every appearance.
After the All-Star break another name to start becoming familiar with will be the newbie Jon Singleton. Also labeled a can’t miss player by Bo Porter. Look for his numbers to go up in August and September. The #1 ranked prospect according to the powers that be in baseball has belted six homers and collected 21 rbi’s since his recall June 3.
Scott Feldman, Brad Peacock, and Brett Oberholtzer will continue to eat up innings as 2014 winds down. As for what the Astros decide to do come the trade deadline… my guess is that they will stand pat and continue to collect draft picks.
Bo Porter has been a skipper with training on the go. Since the start of May his ballclub has played at a .500 clip. In true football vernacular the Astros swept the Rangers by a collective score of 28-14. Chris Carter with a two homer game on July 7, Robbie Grossman with a 4-hit night on July 9. A different player each night seems to take great pride in handling the baton.
40-55 and enjoying fourth place. A place that is theirs for the immediate future while another Texas team continues to struggle. This team is on the rise. Again it will not surprise if things in the A.L. West begin to tighten up toward the fall.
Houston you have fewer problems. The future’s looking bright. Nice bounce back after a 1-6 week to get four wins and get to 40. Enjoy the second half and enjoy the progression.