Saturday, May 16, 2015

Division Leaders: AL West - May 15th, 2015

AL West

Houston Astros - 22-13

Intriguing, to say the least. This is an Astros team that whipped off a 10-game winning streak (from April 24th to May 3rd), has spent 30 days in 1st place, and hasn't lost more than 3 games in a row all year. Their record is somewhat odd: 10-9 at home, 12-4 on the road. Not the sort of numbers you'd expect to see; it ought to be the other way around, right? They're also 9-2 in one-run games, which is notable for obvious reasons: their 'pen holds up under pressure, and they can handle the tough games. 

One important note: until today, the Astros were the only team in the AL West with a winning record.

League Rankings, Batting-1st in HR, 4th in SB, 4th in BB, 7th in runs scored, 15th in BA

There's actually a lot to like about this Houston team. For starters, they are leading the league in homers and steals. That's nice, right?

Well, here's a problem: they're dead last in batting average and 13th in OBP. That's definitely not nice. Not exactly hard to see how that's possible when you have guys like 1B Chris Carter (.150, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 51 SO in 131 PA), 3B Luis Valbuena (.202, 8 HR, 14 RBI), LF Colby Rasmus (.223, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 44 SO in 113 PA), and C-DH Evan Gattis (.181, 6 HR, 18 RBI) hacking away with impunity. Of course, 2B Jose Altuve is doing what he does (.333, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 9 doubles, 13 steals), and CF Jake Marisnick (.288, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 9 steals) is delivering on his promise and reputation as a highly athletic outfielder and base runner. 

I would expect C Jason Castro to pick up the pace soon and bump that .231 BA up a few notches. IF Jonathan Villar has yet to deliver on his potential, but the tools are definitely there for him to contribute in both XBH and SB. Give him a little time; with the Astros' batting order significantly improved (in talent, if not in raw numbers), Villar may kick things into gear along with the rest of their batters.

League Rankings, Pitching-3rd in ERA, 3rd in SV, 5th in Hits Allowed, 1st in Walks Allowed, 6th in K

There is actually a lot to like, here, and it starts with LHP Dallas Keuchel (4-0, 1.39 ERA, 7 GS, 51 2/3 IP, 29 Hits Allowed, 15 BB, 37 K), who is showing the rest of the league's hitters a great deal of disdain. Oh, he's also only allowed one homer, so far. He was 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA last year, so it looks like Keuchel is the real deal. RHP Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez (1-3, 4.12 ERA, 43 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 20 K) is solid, thus far, but he's certainly not the ideal pick as a long-term solution in the rotation. He should bear scrutiny throughout the season.

RHP Collin McHugh, however, was a significant addition to the starting five, as he demonstrated with an 11-9, 2.73 ERA showing last year. At 4-1 with an ERA at 3.50, he's on his way to a repeat performance. From 2011-2014, RHP Scott Feldman has delivered a solid, if unspectacular, effort (4.12 ERA, 28-36 in 517 2/3 IP), and he should post numbers similar to those in 2015. That's acceptable if you have an offense which can score you runs on a consistent basis.

Righty closer Luke Gregerson (2.40 ERA, 15 IP, 12 K, 2 BB, 8 SV) is away from the team attending to a 'personal matter', and the 'pen will definitely feel his absence. RHP Will Harris (who?) has been stellar thus far, posting a 0.53 ERA over 17 IP (13 appearances), with 22 K and a measly 4 walks. Submariner and fellow baseball card collector Pat Neshek has been delivering the goods in his 16 appearances, striking out 14 over 14 1/3 innings without walking a single batter (51 batters faced total). From the 45th round to ML reliever, Tony Sipp (0.63 ERA, 13 appearances, 14 1/3 IP, 12 K, 3 BB) is doing his part to keep the bases clear. Sipp's numbers over his 7-year ML career have been fairly steady, more or less (3.62 ERA over 323 IP), and there's no reason that this should change this year.

Finally, 36 year-old righty Chad Qualls (3.38 ERA, 15 appearances, 13 1/3 IP, 17 K, 3 BB) is still humming along at near-peak efficiency, having returned to his original ML team in 2014 after a 6-year sabbatical/tour of roughly 1/3 of the rest of the Majors. 
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