Astros Earn “A” for First Two Months of 2015 Season

One of the biggest surprises this spring is how the Houston Astros got out of the gate for the 2015 Major League Baseball season.

Most of their early success came from solid starting pitching and a bullpen that has been virtually impenetrable. Then a few of the hitters caught fire and delivered when the chips were down and the outcome of the game was on the line.

The result was the Astros reaching the 30-win plateau before any other major league team and also tying for having the best 50-game record (31-19) in the majors. Since then Houston has split a pair of games with the Chicago White Sox and stand at 31-20 (.608) in games through Sunday.

Two of the big reasons are first-year manager A.J. Hinch and southpaw ace starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel.

Hinch learned a lot after his first managerial job with the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was in the front office with the San Diego Padres while Keuchel has posted a 7-1 record for the first two months with a major-league-leading 1.76 earned run average.

What’s amazing about this year’s Astros’ is how a team with so many new faces from the manager to most of the coaching staff to the players, has so much cohesion. “Hinch’s growth since his first managerial stint with the Diamondbacks, from 2009-10 is also visible,” an article in Friday’s Houston Chronicle pointed out. Hinch admits there have been moments when he’s taken a different path than he would have or did with the Diamondbacks.

“Because it’s so early, it’s not time to do a touchdown dance,” Hinch was quoted as saying to a Chronicle reporter last week. “I know it’s a different sport, but it’s just the way we’re going to operate.

“If you’ve been around long enough as a player or as a coach or anything, the season can really change quickly—both positively and negatively. The 10-game stretches are really good. Ten-game stretches when you go poorly are the longest 10 days of your life no matter what job you have,” he philosophized.

Keuchel came flying out of the gate this season, winning his first six decisions. His only setback occurred last week when he surrendered two home runs, with the second one—a two run shot late in the game—provided a 4-3 game-winner for Baltimore.

The loss must have really upset the bearded lefty because Keuchel twirled a nifty four-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox Saturday afternoon as the Astros scratched out a 3-0 win.

Houston broke a scoreless battle in the bottom of the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Villar. The Astros got two important insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when Evan Gattis and Chris Carter smacked back-to-back solo homers upping the count to 3-0, which was the final score.

Keuchel was in command the entire game thanks mainly to his 11 strikeouts. “One thing is certain, though. Keuchel is leading the surging Astros in the same way as Roy Oswalt paced the rotation a decade ago when the franchise reached the 2005 World Series,” stated the game story in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle.

“Keuchel became the first Astros pitcher to throw consecutive complete games since Oswalt accomplished the feat Sept 6-11, 2008,” the article continued. “It was Keuchel’s eighth career complete game and second in as many starts.”

Last year’s American League batting champion Jose Altuve has cooled off after a hot start, but still is the catalyst for the Astros’ offensive success so far this season. But he still was hitting around the .300 mark going into the month of June.

Timely hitting and strong pitching helped Houston win 14 of 15 games from mid-April to early May including sweeps of San Diego, Seattle and Oakland to jump into the driver’s seat of the AL West, a position they have never relinquished, despite losing more games than they won the last 10 days of May.

Going into the month of June Monday, the Astros were five games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Angels. Let’s hope the ‘Stroes are in a similar position the first of October.

KWICKIES…Although the Houston Texans are having quite a battle between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job during the current organized team activities, the defense is quietly getting better under second-year coordinator Romeo Crennell. The Texans, under Crennell’s tutelage, finished 16th in defense last season, including 10th against the run and 21st against the pass and was one of the main reasons for their seven-game improvement and 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s first year as head coach.

University of Houston freshman pitcher Seth Romero carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning for the top-seeded Cougars in a Houston Regional winner’s bracket game Sunday. He lost the no-hitter in the eighth inning and the game in the ninth as the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns pulled off a 2-1 victory for the second come-from-behind victory last weekend. The Cougars lost Sunday night to Rice 3-1 and was eliminated from the tournament. Rice played the Ragin’ Cajuns Monday night.

Steven Bowditch, who led for all four rounds in last weekend’s AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament, fired a five-under par 64 Sunday for a four-shot victory. Bowditch had rounds of 62-68-65-64—259 to pocket the $1.278 million first-place check.

Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers are distinct underdogs to win the NBA Championship against Golden State, I think LeBron James will find a way to lead them to victory in seven games.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Mighty West Orange-Stark Mustangs did a repeat performance last weekend against the Carthage Bulldogs after being humbled 9-0 in Thursday’s opener and then coming back to win a doubleheader Saturday at McNeese State in Lake Charles by scores of 7-3 and 4-0. The ‘Stangs will face the No. 2-ranked Huffman Falcons in a three-games series for the Region III championship that should feature some real good pitching from both teams. The first game of the series is set for 7 p.m. today (Wed.) at Vincent-Beck Field on the Lamar University campus in Beaumont. The second game is scheduled for tomorrow (Thurs.) at 5 p.m. with a third game (if necessary) to follow. The last time the Mustangs’ baseball team reached the regional finals was back in 1991. Huffman edged out Bridge City 3-2 in eight innings in the regional quarterfinals two weeks ago and then defeated Center  3-1 and 13-4 in the regional semifinals last weekend.