With all baseball eyes on and the media's attention going to the Chicago Cubs and the team they they have built over the past few years that is starting to show signs of winning, fans outside of the Houston area can forget that there is one other team who has also spent the last few seasons doing very much the same thing. However, this team has had even more success throughout the first month of the 2015 season and into May than have the Cubs, and it looks as if the Houston Astros are well on their way to a potential division title.
The Astros last had a winning season in 2008 when they shared the N.L. Central with the Cubs, who won the division that year. Since then, both teams have faltered, but the Cubs have gotten the media attention in their rebuilding process. Houston moved to the American League West in 2013, and after after a 51-111 season in their first year in their new division, they broke out of the cellar to win 70 games last year.
This season, the Astros have put the "rebuilding" term to bed.
Entering play on May 3, the Astros have a 17-7 record and lead the A.L. West by six games over the Los Angeles Angels. They got off to a 4-6 start, indicating improvement over last year, but since then, they have won 13 of 14, inclduding nine straight games from April 24 to May 2 to build that large early lead.
The Astros have gotten some very solid pitching as they enter play on May 3 with a 3.08 ERA -- second in the American League. While the rest of the rotation is very good, Collin McHugh is 4-0 with a 3.40 ERA, and Dallas Keuchel is 3-0 with an unbelieveable 0.73 ERA in his first five starts. Luke Grergorson has become a reliable closer as he is 5 for 6 in save opportunities, and Tony Sipp has a 0.79 ERA in 10 appearances.
Offensively, while hitting only .247, the Astros have scored 118 runs in their first 24 games -- 4.91 runs per game. During the winning streak, they have averaged 7.6 runs pergame. Jose Altuve is once again the main spark plug with his .371 average, 15 runs, and nine steals. However, he is second on the team in average because Jake Marisnick is hitting .391 with 13 runs and nine steals in what looks like will be his first full season.
Surprisingly, Altuve leads the team with 19 RBI although he is not known for power numbers. Luis Valbuena and Colby Rasmus have six and five home runs, respectively, providing the veteran presence that any young team needs.
Manager A.J. Hinch has done a phenonminal job in taking his team from the lower end of the division to legitamite contenders in just one season. It is only May 3, and the season still has nearly five months left, but this Astros team looks like it will stay in contention for the duration. Every team, especially a young one, will have its slumps, and the Astros will, too. This team, though, is hungry and ready to win. If they keep playing even close to the way they are now, then this young Astros team could very well take over as A.L. West champs in 2015.