The first half of the 2017 baseball season is in the books – and it was one for the books. In splitting a four-game seesaw series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, the Houston Astros secured their sixtieth win of the first half. Only five other teams in the Wild Card era have matched that accomplishment.
The Houston Astros would like to request a scheduling change from Major League Baseball: They’d like to stay in Atlanta a while longer. And after their offense exploded for 26 runs in two games at the newly-opened SunTrust Park, who can blame them?
The vaunted New York Yankees – second place in the strong AL East – rolled into Houston on Friday to do battle with the powerhouse Houston Astros. The matchup had all the makings of a classic clash of the Titans. The Astros have rolled over their competition all year; the Yankees have rode their youthful talent to an expectations-shattering season.
By most measures, the Houston Astros have the best offense in baseball. They slug balls over the fence like no one else, they work counts and draw walks, and they’ve made a habit of not striking out. There’s no such thing as an easy out in this lineup, and that starts at the top – leadoff man George Springer is in the midst of a career year.
For a first-place team, the Astros sure have been unlucky. That may sound glib in reference to the best team in baseball, but there aren’t many other ways to describe the litany of injuries that have beset the Houston starting rotation. At present, staff anchor Dallas Keuchel is keeping fellow hurlers Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh company on the disabled list. Meanwhile, Lance McCullers Jr. returned to duty just last week.
On May 27, the Houston Astros removed a struggling Mike Fiers from their starting rotation and deposited the 32-year-old veteran into the bullpen. It was, without doubt, a demoralizing blow for the right-handed hurler. Fiers has been a serviceable major league starter for the Astros in the past, and has even flirted with stretches of dominance. But after he limped to a 5.21 ERA and a major league-leading 18 home runs allowed to start 2017, AJ Hinch and the Astros had seen enough.
Astros skipper AJ Hinch is a lucky man. His club has been the toast of Major League Baseball this year. He draws rave reviews from a dynamic young clubhouse. He also possesses an elite bullpen weapon in the form of fireballing sophomore Chris Devenski. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether Hinch knows how best to use that weapon.
The best team in baseball slid further into a funk this week, as the depleted Astros roster dropped two of three games to the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Houston is enduring its first real skid of 2017, having won just four of its last ten contests. Of course, that’s what losing four starting pitchers to the disabled list will do to a club.
The Astros lost their series against the second-place Anaheim Angels and have now dropped four of their last six games. Ordinarily, that sort of development would cause plenty of concern. But Houston still holds a commanding twelve game lead in the AL West standings as they welcome the Rangers to Minute Maid Park. So why are Astros fans hanging their heads? Because the ‘Stros have lost yet another pitcher – this time young fireballer Lance McCullers Jr. – to the disabled list.
You wouldn’t know it by their 8-2 record, but the Houston Astros took a few lumps on their latest road trip. After soaring to an eleven-game winning streak, the ‘Stros lost star pitcher Dallas Keuchel to the 10-day disabled list for the second time in as many months.