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The biggest surprise of the 2015 season to date has to be the Houston Astros. A record of 31-20 is the second best start in franchise history; only the 1998 Astros were better at 32-20 and they went on to win 102 games.
Houston’s stats don’t particularly wow opponents; they’re .237 team batting average ranks near the bottom of Major league Baseball while they do lead all baseball in home runs with 68 and are second in the American League with 43 steals.
Jose Altuve leads the team with a .296 batting average and 61 hits and Evan Gattis has 11 home runs and 31 RBI’s
The starting pitching staff has a 3.54 ERA while the bullpen sits at a 2.28 ERA. Dallas Keuchel boasts a 7-1 mark with a 1.76 ERA and 60 strikeouts. Luke Gregerson leads the team with 13 saves.
What the Astros do exceptionally well is stay in games and score runs in the second half of the games. They’ve scored more runs per inning in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th innings than any other inning but the third. The Astros are 26-0 when leading after eight innings.
The Astros are batting .256 in games in which they are tied or ahead from the 7th inning on; conversely their bullpen has allowed a .210 average in the same category. The bullpen leads the Majors with a 4.67 strikeout to walk ratio, 168 strikeouts with 36 walks in 153.2 innings.
The Astros were built through the draft, trades and free agent signings.
Homegrown talent includes Keuchel drafted in the 7th round in 2009, catcher Jason Castro drafted in the first round in 2008 and right fielder George Springer who was a first round pick in 2011.
Free agent signee Jose Altuve joined the club in 2007 and has come into his own the past two seasons making the All-Star team and posting MVP numbers last season.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie and outfielders Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus joined the team this year adding power and defense to an inexperienced lineup.
The Astros minor league system is ranked 14th by Baseball America, first round picks Carlos Correa, shortstop and Mark Appel head the list of top prospects. The club has the 2nd and fifth picks in the 2015 draft and looks to bolster a talented farm system.
In June of 2014 looking at the Houston farm system, which Sports Illustrated ranked #2, and applying a how a team performs four years later Sports Illustrated picked the Astros to win the 2017 World Series. That prediction doesn’t seem that far-fetched when looking how this team has performed thus far in 2015.
I’m not convinced this club can continue to hit as well as they have with runners in scoring position, .250/.333/.450 and hit late into ballgames. But, if the pitching continues to stay strong they have a chance to hold on in the American League West where the Angels and surging Rangers appear to be threats.
An Astros World Series appearance may come sooner than 2017.