Traditionally, it’s said that pitching wins championships, but the 101-61 Houston Astros debunked that theory with average pitching, subpar defense, and an explosive offense.
The World Series champs dominated the opposition from the first day of the season until they hit an August slump. Over the course of the first two weeks of August, the Astros slid to a 3-10 record, then finished the month 11-17. However, things quickly turned around in September and Houston finished the final month of the season 21-8.
The top offensive in Major League Baseball proved to be unstoppable no matter the quality of pitching that was thrown its way. The Astros led the big with team batting average of .282, .346 on-base percentage, .478 slugging percentage, 896 runs scored, 346 doubles, 854 RBIs, 2,681 total bases, and the fewest strike outs in MLB with 1,087.
Middle infield duo Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa led Houston with .346 and .315 batting averages, respectively. Center fielder and World Series MVPGeorge Springer led the Astros with 34 home runs and drove in the second most runs with 85, behind only Marwin Gonzalez‘s 90.
The incendiary offense that produced an average of 5.53 runs per game did an excellent job covering for an average to below average pitching staff that allowed 4.32 runs per game. Starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton led the starting rotation with 14 wins apiece, but the addition of Justin Verlander changed the entire landscape of Houston’s title run with a 1.06 ERA and a 5-0 record in five regular season starts with the Astros. Verlander’s postseason presence was felt mostly during the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees with a 2-0 record in two starts and a 0.56 ERA.
Despite solid defense up the middle with Altuve and Correa as well over at first base with Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel, the Astros as a unit were not strong everywhere else. Houston posted a team defensive efficiency of .682, third worst in the AL. A bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy appears to rarely work for 162-plus games, but it seemed work out just fine for the Astros.
The thing that makes 2018 scary for the rest of MLB, is that the Astros haven’t lost any pieces to their championship roster, but instead added another ace starting pitcher in Gerrit Cole. With the 1-2-3 punch of Verlander, Keuchel, and Cole, there’s a solid chance the Astros could potentially be sitting on 45 wins from just those three. However, despite being co-favorites to win the World Series (the Astros and LA Dodgers are both at 11/2 odds), I wouldn’t take Houston as a guarantee, because it took seven games to get through the powerhouse Yankees, then another seven to drop the LA Dodgers and claim the World Series pennant. One thing is for sure, the Astros will be an interesting watch from start to finish in 2018.
Photo by Marcus Wright