Joe Kazmar – For The Record

Last season the Houston Astros got off to a flying start in April (18-7) but then cooled off somewhat after that, barely hanging on to make the 2015 playoffs.

And when big things were expected from the 2016 Astros, they almost crashed and burned coming out of the gate this spring, falling 10 games under .500 by the first of May.

But the team turned things around the next two months, finishing the month of June with an 18-8 record, giving them the most wins in the month since 1989, according Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle.

“The winning percentage (.692) is second in franchise history since the 1979 Astros went 20-8 (.718) in June,” the article points out.

Three of the biggest reasons for the glowing record last month were the great production at the top of the Astros batting order from what should be the nucleus for many seasons of success from right fielder and leadoff batter George Springer, the Most Valuable Player so far of the American League in second baseman Jose Altuve and last year’s Rookie of the Year, shortstop Carlos Correa.

This Trio of Talent has finally gotten their acts together and has led the way to victory after victory the past five or six weeks. Springer not only leads the team in home runs with 19, but also has dazzled defensively in right field, from making full-body diving catches to throwing runners out trying to take an extra base on his shotgun-like arm.

Altuve, who Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow called “the best player on the planet,” was named the American League Player of the Month of June after rapping out 42 hits in 100 at-bats during June for a franchise-record .420 batting average that included six doubles, four home runs, 15 RBIs and six stolen bases. He also posted a .492 on-base percentage and a .620 slugging percentage in June’s 26 games.

Altuve is the first player in club history to win the monthly honor since Lance Berkman was named the National League Player of the Month for May in 2008.

The diminutive second sacker, who leads the major leagues with a .355 batting average, will head to his fourth All-Star Game next week. He is only one homer shy (14) of his career high, accomplishing the feat in half as many at-bats.

“It (June) was a big month for us,” Altuve was quoted by the Chronicle last weekend. “To be player of the month in a month when the team was winning, it’s even better. At the end of the day, what matters is the way we’re playing.”

Besides playing shortstop at a high level, Correa also has been attacking the ball, hammering line drives and blasting home runs that are still rising when they clear the fence.

According to the Chronicle’s article, Correa was on a first-year Hall-of-Fame pace in April before the Astros resurrected their season.

After slowing down in May, the 21-year-old Correa came back and had his best month of the season in June–.303 batting average, 1.024 OPS, five home runs and 22 runs-batted-in.

“The hardest game in the world looked easy for Altuve during the entire month of June,” the article summarized. “Correa came back into his own just when the Astros needed an upward surge. Springer has been flying, diving and firing since April started.”

Manager A.J. Hinch added his own conclusion to the scenario, “When your better, more notable players are playing well, it eases the burden off of everybody on the team.”

July has begun with the Houston Astros splitting four games through the 2-1 Fourth of July victory over the Seattle Mariners in the opener of their three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

However the ‘Stroes lost only their first series in their last six when the Chicago White Sox took two-of-three last weekend.

When the Seattle series concludes Wednesday, the Astros will close out the 10-game home stand with a four-game series against the Oakland A’s before breaking for the All-Star Game festivities.

Houston resumes the regular season July 15 with a three-game series at Seattle followed by three games in Los Angeles against the Angels.

KWICKIES…The news last week about the NFL suspending Johnny Manziel for the first four games of the 2016 season, although he has no team, is about as ludicrous as saying I’ve been prohibited from flying on the next spaceship to Mars because I wear the wrong kind of underwear.

New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira on Sunday joined the elite group of switch hitters with 400 homers that includes Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones and Yankees’ teammate and former Astro Carlos Beltran.

Washington Nationals’ ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg was pulled in the seventh inning with a no-hitter in tow. Manager Dusty Baker did it as a precautionary measure because the undefeated hurler just came off the disabled list, threw 109 pitches and his team was killing the Cincinnati Reds 12-1. The victory upped Strasburg’s mound record to 11-0 for the season.

The Houston Astros’ newest closer Will Harris set a franchise record by throwing scoreless ninth innings for saves Sunday and Monday. Monday’s 2-1 save over Seattle marked Harris’ 36th consecutive appearance without allowing an extra base hit. Dave Smith went 34 games without allowing an extra base hit from July 30, 1986 to May 30, 1987.

Major league history was set Sunday night when the Atlanta Braves played the Miami Marlins at Fort Bragg Field in North Carolina. It marked the first regular-season game of a major professional sport played on an active military installation. The Marlins defeated Atlanta 5-2.

JUST BETWEEN US…By the time this Korner hits the streets Wednesday the news of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors will be old. But according to an ESPN report Monday afternoon, the former Texas Longhorn star basketball player verbally agreed to a two-year deal worth $54 million with an optional buyout after the first year.