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.
Springer sets the tone early. Of his eighteen base hits in the first inning, fully half of them are home runs – his nine home runs to lead off the game is a new Houston franchise record, and the Major League record of 13 is well within reach. Springer has also chipped in three first-inning doubles and nine walks for good measure, all contributing to a Ruthian .290/.397/.774 batting line in the first frame.
Of course, Springer is no slouch in innings two through nine. His .286/.365/.585 season line puts him in rare offensive air. He’s methodically cut his strikeout rate by over 10% since his debut, whittling it down to 22.3% in 2017. A decrease in strikeouts (and corresponding increase in contact) often indicates that a hitter is trading some of his power in an effort to better put the ball in play. Not so for Springer – on the back of his 24 home runs, Springer’s isolated power has soared to .293 this season, good for fourth in the American League and nearly 100 points higher than his strong mark of .196 in 2016.
And then there’s wRC+, an advanced statistic that normalizes average offensive performance to a score of 100. Springer’s mark of 151 this year means that he’s played 51% better than the average batter – in other words, George Springer is single-handedly producing at a rate that we would expect from one and a half players.
The national audience is plenty aware of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the superstar up-the-middle tandem who serve as the joint faces of the Astros franchise. But this beast of a team has three heads at least, and George Springer is proving himself to be a legitimate superstar in his own right. (Now’s as good a time as any to mention that Springer’s defense also grades out as well above average; his cannon of a throwing arm is one of the most feared in baseball.) Springer may not yet be a household name outside of Texas. But he will be one day. And if he keeps playing like this, he won’t be waiting long.
‘Stros Back on Track
The Astros took two games of three from the Oakland Athletics this week, earning their third consecutive series victory. After a bullpen meltdown cost Houston in game one, the bats came up big, terrorizing A’s pitchers to the tune of 17 runs over the next two contests. With Thursday’s victory, the ‘Stros are winners of eight of their last ten – a nice recovery from their mid-June swoon.
The All-Star Break is only two weeks away, and the Astros figure to send a strong contingent – even on the minor league side. The July 9 Sirius XM Futures Game showcases the best prospects in the league, and three Astros farmhands – outfielders Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker and infielder Yordan Alvarez – were selected to participate. Three prospects makes for an unusually strong contingent. The last time three Houston prospects were sent to the Futures Game was in 2013, when Carlos Correa and George Springer shared the field with Delino DeShields, now of the Texas Rangers.
Injured starters Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel are both making strides in their recoveries. Morton has already completed two minor league rehab starts, and could rejoin Houston’s rotation as early as this weekend. Meanwhile, Keuchel is playing catch and is tentatively slated to throw from the mound in the next few days. The Astros are taking a methodical approach with both hurlers – having each fresh and available for the post-season is more important than a start or two in June or July.