Photo: Friday the Houston Astros obtained left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir.

 

Kaz’s Korner- Joe Kazmar – For The Record

 

When the 2015 major league baseball season began four months ago, there wasn’t a soul who knew anything about the sport that picked the Houston Astros to do any good as far as winning anything was concerned.

But here it is with less than two months remaining in the season and the Astros have amazed those knowledgeable folks by claiming first place in the American League West Division for nearly the entire four months.

Not even the Astros’ front office would have predicted 60 wins after only 106 games by Aug. 2, when last year the team didn’t win number 60 until the 144th game. They have posted victories against every team in the American League except the Minnesota Twins, who they haven’t played yet.

Besides leading the Los Angeles Angels by four games going into Monday’s action, only the Kansas City Royals have won more games than Houston in the American League with Toronto holding a slightly better run differential than the Astros.

The last five world champions have averaged just 92.2 regular-season victories and the last 100-win club to claim the title was the 2009 New York Yankees. So the Houston Astros have to just keep on doing what they’re doing for two more months and good things should happen.

The Astros have gone without starters George Springer and Jed Lowrie for much of the season and before the non-waiver trading deadline ended Friday they obtained left-handed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir (no relation), right-handed starter Mike Fiers and outfielder Carlos Gomez, who have already contributed to Astros victories.

Kazmir already has had two starts for Houston and hasn’t given up a run in either of his outings. Gomez broke a 1-1 tie by driving in two go-ahead runs in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks while Fiers was scheduled to pitch last night against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Both Gomez and Fiers came to the Astros from last place Milwaukee, in the NL Central Division.

One of the smartest decisions made by the front office was to elevate 20-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa to the major leagues perhaps a year earlier than they had planned, making him the youngest starting player in the major leagues.

Correa already has become the first shortstop in over 100 years to collect 12 home runs by his 46th game and leads all shortstops in homers in the majors. Since his debut June 8, he leads the Astros in homers (12), doubles (14), hits (56) and RBIs (32).

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Nomar Garciaparra and former Astro Geoff Blum had eight home runs through their first 46 games of their respective careers, tying for the previous highs for a shortstop, according to an article appearing in the Houston Chronicle last weekend.

The Astros’ turn-around can be attributed to many factors with a much-improved pitching staff at the top of the list. Dallas Keuchel (13-5) and Collin McHugh (13-5) both lead the American League in victories while the bullpen finished the weekend with the third-lowest ERA in the majors (2.68) and allowing the lowest opponents’ batting average (.200). McHugh’s record is 20-5 since Aug. 1, 2014.

Although the Astros have one of the lowest team batting averages and lead the major leagues by being struck out the most, they also lead the majors in home runs.

It seems that baseball has been turned upside-down with long-time doormats (like the Astros, Kansas City and the New York Mets) now on top and former powers such as Atlanta and Philadelphia in the white-flag mode.

Over the last decade, 27 of baseball’s 30 teams have made at least one playoff appearance, and 24 of those have qualified more than once.

And keep in mind the major league playoffs added an extra wild card in 2012. Only 10 teams qualify which is much fewer than the 16 that make it both in the NBA and the NHL and a lower percentage than the NFL which takes 12 of the 32 teams.

Miami, Seattle and Toronto are the only teams to miss out on baseball’s post-season the past 10 years, but the Blue Jays are eager to end their drought.

And as the Astros prepare for the final two months of their most successful season in a decade, the team announced Friday that season-ticket prices will increase by under 10 per cent in 2016 for current customers and about 12 per cent for new season-ticket holders.

Attendance is up for the Astros this season to 25,746 per game from 21,627 for last season.

KWICKIES…The Houston Texans began training camp with two quarterbacks—Bryan Hoyer and Ryan Mallett—competing for the 2015 starting job. But of the 46 players who have thrown at least 600 passes since Hoyer entered the NFL in 2010, only TWO have thrown fewer touchdown passes than he has. Of the 81 players who have thrown at least 75 passes since Mallett came into the league in 2011, only THREE have thrown fewer touchdown passes than the two he managed with Houston last year. But Head Coach Bill O’Brien insists he has two quality quarterbacks vying for the job and he bristles every time the media questions their NFL capabilities.

Former West Orange-Stark quarterback Dillon-Sterling Cole, who transferred to Houston Westfield and missed the Mustangs’ march to the state championship game last season, last week committed to Arizona State. The senior is ranked as the No. 217 prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

And while on the subject of West Orange-Stark, twin brothers Grant and Aiden Anderson, who are headed to McNeese State on baseball scholarships, were named first-team All-State by the Texas Sports Writers Association after their senior seasons with the Mustangs. Grant (.374) was named as a designated hitter and Aiden (11-3) was one of four pitchers making the first team.

Apparently the Lamar Cardinals’ football team gets no respect as they were once again picked to finish eighth in the Southland Conference preseason polls last week. The Big Red also was picked to finish eighth last season and surprised the pollsters by finishing third with a 5-3 SLC record.

The Seattle Seahawks released defensive tackle Tony McDaniel to save salary cap space after signing quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner to lucrative contract extensions. The move will save Seattle between $2.5 million and $3 million against the salary cap. The Seahawks also acquired cornerback Mohammad Seisay from Detroit for an undisclosed 2016 draft pick.

JUST BETWEEN US… Houston Texans’ star defensive lineman J. J. Watt had a very busy off-season taking batting practice with the Astros at Minute Maid Park, lifting weights with Arnold Schwarzenegger to help him promote Terminator Genisys and hanging out with Jennifer Aniston, female boxer Ronda Rousey, Britney Spears, skier Lindsey Vonn, Caroline Wozniacki, Carrie Underwood and Kathy Ireland. Also during the off-season Watt has filmed commercials for Reliant Energy, H-E-B, Reebok, Gatorade, Ford, American Family Insurance, Bose and Verizon. And he still reported to camp last week in tremendous playing shape.