Houston, we have no problem

Through 34 games, the Houston Astros are off to their best start in franchise history and hold the best record in the MLB at 23-11. Just three seasons ago, the Astros finished 22 games under .500 and lost over 100 games the previous year. Despite everything, the Astros are now a viable playoff threat. But how did they get here?

The Astros are built around a big four in shortstop Carlos Correa, second baseman Jose Altuve, outfielder George Springer and pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Everyone in this group either started to peak or was called up to the show when Houston hit rock bottom in 2013.

Correa has the shortest tenure in the bigs, as he was called up in June of 2015. The 20-year-old hit the ground running with 22 homers, 68 RBIs and earned the AL Rookie of the Year Award for his efforts. Even as an average to below average shortstop when it comes to his range, Correa still plays the ball cleanly and limits his errors at the position. Of course, his range is likely limited by the fact that he’s 6-foot-4.

Correa’s middle infield mate Altuve started to come into his own in 2014. Yes, the Astros finished under .500 that season, but Altuve led the league with a .341 batting average and hasn’t dipped below .300 since. Altuve is a scoring machine with 21 runs scored already this season, which puts him on pace to cross the plate 100-plus times for the second year in a row.

Springer made his debut during the 2014 season and provides a big bat for the Astros. In 186 career division games, he has killed AL West pitching with 32 dingers (half of those against the Seattle Mariners) and 90 RBIs. That’s the kind of consistency that drives pitchers insane.

Regardless of the bats, the most dominant piece to this puzzle has been Keuchel. The 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner has returned to form this season, and sits at 5-0 with an impressive 1.88 ERA. My only worry if I’m an Astros fan is that Keuchel could get overworked early in the season and run out of gas when September and October roll around. He has not had an outing that has lasted fewer than seven complete innings and went the distance in a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on April 25. The best thing for him might be for a blister or callous to show up on his index finger in July and miss a start or two to get a little bit of extra rest.

Despite a small worry about Keuchel’s workload, I don’t see anybody in the AL West catching this team. The race in the West is for second place, as the Astros have turned things around in just three short years and established themselves as a legitimate threat for the AL crown.

Photo by Brigham Berthold

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