With the Yankees mired in a major slump, the streaking Houston Astros have emerged as the team to beat in the American League. Again.
Through scandal, managerial change, and free agent defections, the Astros have thrived by making shrewd signings, smart trades, and developing their players. Since 2015, the Astros are 680-468 — an American League best and second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball.
This season, Houston has won four straight and seven of 10 to improve to 75-41, passing the fading New York Yankees in the AL race for home field advantage and emerging as the favorite to reach the World Series for the fourth time in six years.
Here’s how they’re doing it:
- A Thriving Offense: The Astros’ 525 total runs rank third in the AL and ninth in baseball. That’s even better when you factor in their .271 batting average on balls in play, which is an unlucky third-lowest mark in the game (the Yankees are right there too at .273). But they make up for that by making a ton of contact. They boast a 19.6% strikeout rate (second in MLB), a .425 slugging percentage (fifth), and 152 home runs (third).
- Homegrown Talent: Homegrown mashers like Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker are both in baseball’s top 10 in RBIs. Alvarez also ranks second in baseball in slugging, second in OPS, third in on-base percentage, and third with 31 home runs.
- Veterans: Team stalwarts and franchise cornerstones Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman continue to have strong seasons, aided by trade deadline acquisitions like Trey Mancini and Christian Vazquez.
- Elite Pitching: Where Houston truly thrives is on the mound, with an AL-best 3.02 team ERA, 9.09 strikeouts per nine innings (sixth in MLB), and a 0.87 home run per nine mark (T-1 in MLB). Though the Astros’ .263 opposing BABIP is the luckiest in baseball to date, they’re seventh in baseball with a 17.9% soft contact rate and sixth with a 28.4% hard contact rate. Aside from a top-tier rotation, the Astros’ bullpen has stepped up as well. Ryne Stanek has been dominant in relief, and Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, and closer Ryan Pressley have also been stellar.
- Justin Verlander: At 39 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery, Justin Verlander has been unimaginably dominant. His 15 wins, 1.85 ERA, and 0.86 WHIP lead all starters, and he’s gotten tremendous help from fellow rotation pitchers Framber Valdez (2.73 ERA), Cristian Javier (2.96), Jose Urquidy (3.85), and Luis Garcia (4.03).
Despite losing Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Zack Greinke and other key parts over the years, manager Dusty Baker and general manager James Click have kept things moving in Houston. The Yankees have lost steam and the Astros are 5-2 against New York this year — the most losses the Bombers have suffered against any team this season aside from division foe Boston. The AL once again will have to go through Houston, which continues to excel as one of the sport’s few dominant forces.