Despite not being able to put all phases of the game together for several seasons, the Houston Astros picked up the players they thought they needed and started the 2017 major league season like a runaway freight train.
And there doesn’t seem to be any stopping it as the season reached the halfway point last weekend with the Astros sporting MLB firsts in many categories.
First they have the best record in baseball with their 56-27 (.675) worksheet going into yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) action at Atlanta. Houston leads the American League West Division by a whopping 14½ games over the second place Los Angeles Angels.
Second, the ‘Stroes boast the best team batting average of any other franchise. In fact, during the month of June, Houston fashioned a .294 team batting average, also best in the majors.
Four of their regular starters sport batting averages over the coveted .300 mark going into last night’s contest—second baseman Jose Altuve (.325), shortstop .Carlos Correa (.319), infielder/outfielder Marwin Gonzalez (.313) and outfielder Josh Reddick (.309). The rest of the regular players are hitting over .250.
If you think they are a bunch of banjo hitters like the 1959 Go-Go White Sox, think again. The Astros lead the majors in home runs with 133 round-trippers and on the other end of the spectrum have struck out the fewest number of times, another first.
Clutch hitting is another phase of the game at which the Astros excel, batting .296 with two outs and runners in scoring position, which is second only to the Colorado Rockies.
The Astros had a franchise-record five players named to next Tuesday’s annual All-Star game—Altuve, Correa and George Springer who are all starters for the American League—plus pitchers Dallas Keuchel (injured) and Lance McCullers, Jr.
If there was a weakness going into the second half if the season, it has to be in starting pitching. The staff is hell when it’s well, but it seems to be sick (injuries) all the time.
Five starters spent time on the disabled list in June—Keuchel, McCullers, Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove and Collin McHugh—with only McCullers and Musgrove back in early July.
Another starter, David Paulino, was suspended 80 days without pay by MLB for using performance enhancing drugs (Boldenone) and won’t be eligible for the post-season.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch have been shopping all season for another starting pitcher, but most teams want to moon back in return. The trading deadline is at the end of this month and Houston has plenty of talent to trade with at their Triple AAA franchise in Fresno.
And speaking of Fresno, Luhnow and Hinch have been jockeying pitchers between there and Houston on an almost daily basis. In fact, if it wasn’t for the rule stating that a player can’t be recalled from Fresno after being sent down for 10 days, the traffic between the two locations would be even heavier.
Despite the woes on the mound, Houston won last weekend’s home series over the second- best team in the AL–those dreaded New York Yankees–getting walloped 13-4 Friday night and then returning the favor two-fold—coming from behind with four runs in the eighth inning and winning 7-6 Saturday and then finishing them off 8-1 on Sunday.
Out of the seven games the two teams have played, Houston has been victorious in five of them. Don’t be surprised if these same two teams meet sometime in the post-season playoffs.
It should be very interesting if the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees can maintain their first half winning patterns.
KWICKIES…Kyle Stanley birdied the first extra hole Sunday while veteran Charles Howell III made a bogey to win the Quicken Loans National Tournament. It was Stanley’s second Pro Tour victory, the first since he won the Phoenix Open in 2012, and was ranked a dismal 643 on the tour. Howell, on the other hand, hasn’t been in the winner’s circle since 2007. Oddly enough, the tourney’s leader through the first three rounds, Sweden’s David Lingmerth, shot 73 Sunday and finished three shots off the winning pace. Stanley’s victory pocketed him a check for $1,218,000 while Howell had to settle for $766,800.
Hometown hero Jeff Horn won a controversial split decision over 38-year-old veteran Manny Pacquiao last weekend in Brisbane, Australia. Ringside observers believed Pacquiao, who has been boxing for 22 years, dominated most of the early action but was ahead on only one of the three judges’ card 117-111. The other two judges both ruled it 115-113 in favor of Horn. Oddly enough, two of the three judges were from the United States.
New York Yankees rookie outfield phenom Aaron Judge had an even better month of June than Houston’s George Springer, who batted .333 with a league-leading 11 home runs and a1.145 OPS in 105 at-bats. Judge, who appears to be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors, hit .324 with 10 homers and a 1.167 OPS. With 10 homers, 30 walks and 39 strikeouts, Judge joined Mark McGwire (August 1998) as the only players in major league history with at least 10 homers, 30 walks and 30 strikeouts in a calendar month, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
JUST BETWEEN US…After having a very successful free football camp last month for more than 700 youngsters, Orange native Earl Thomas III continues to receive accolades, this time from his peers—the players in the National Football League. Earl was rated as the 30th-best player in the in the NFL last season, despite playing in only 11 games, in a poll conducted by  the NFL Network, but voted on by all the players in the league. It’s not surprising that in the 11 games that Thomas played last season, the Seattle Seahawks gave up an average of 16 points. But in the final five games of the regular season after Earl broke the tibia bone in his leg, the Seahawks surrendered 23 point per contest. Thomas, who is referred to by his peers as the Seahawks “quarterback on defense” came in behind some pretty good NFL players in the poll—1. New England quarterback Tom  Brady 2. Denver linebacker Von Miller 3. Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones 4. Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown 5. Oakland linebacker Khalil Mack 6. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers 7. Cowboy running back Ezekiel Elliott 8. NY Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham 9. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell 10. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

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