As has been the trend lately whether it be winning or losing teams have been going on streaks. The Toronto Blue Jays went on a nine game winning streak before finally being defeated in the tenth inning Thursday night by the Royals. Everyone heard about the Red Sox’s streaking woes, losing ten straight games before coming back to sweep the Atlanta Braves in a four game series. If the Red Sox can win a couple more consecutive games some might call it a short win streak like the one the Houston Astros are currently on.
The Astros have won sixth straight including Thursday night’s win 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. They started it off with winning the final two games of a series in Seattle versus the Mariners. Houston then moved on to annihilating the Kansas City Royals out-scoring them 21-5 in a three game sweep leading manager Ned Yost to say,
“We got our butts kicked, in every aspect of the game, by the Houston Astros.”
To that statement Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer added,
“It was embarrassing.”
On Thursday night, starter Brad Peacock gave the Astros a solid six inning start picking up eight strikeouts while allowing six hits, no walks. Pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman and Collin McHugh have also stepped up their games since May began. Yet, an improvement in pitching over recent weeks hasn’t really been what has propelled the Astros, who are 14-13 in the month of May with one game left to play. A record that is far superior than their 9-19 record in April.
While one player does not make a team, one player can certainly make a difference. Everyone who’s seen him play this month would likely agree that rookie outfielder George Springer has made difference for the Astros. He’s already broken the team’s rookie record for most home runs in a month. It was previously held by Glenn Davis, who hit eight in September 1985. Springer has hit ten home runs so far and seven in his last seven games. This is after having a very slow start to the season.
Springer was called up on April 16. He did not hit a single home run in April and ended the month with his batting average at a lowly .182. Since then Springer has been on a tear, like many believed he was capable of when he was first brought up. He’s hitting .319 in May bring his season average up to .268. He’s significantly upped his percentage of walks and
The Astros’ offense has been helped by a string of young players besides Springer including second baseman Jose Altuve, 24, catcher Jason Castro and center fielder Dexter Fowler, 28, who by the team’s standards would be considered a veteran. The average age of the Astros this season is the leagues lowest at 26.8 years.
Yet Springer has stood out as the spark behind the Astros sudden surge. Many have even thrown Springer’s name into the list of candidates for the Rookie of the Year Award. A conversation that at one point only included New York Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. Abreu has since gone on the disabled list with an ankle injury thus slowing his production on the season. There are also many voters (members of the Baseball Writers Association of America) who question the validity of Tanaka’s status as an actual rookie since he played seven seasons of professional baseball in Japan prior to joining the Yankees. A similar case has been made for other rookies some who have gone on to win the award like Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and some who did not like Hideki Matsui who lost out to Angel Berroa in 2003. Given those factors a case could easily be made for Springer although it is still early for those kinds of decisions to be considered.
Regardless of their surge and their power-hitting rookie, no one is saying that Houston is going to be a playoff contender this season. Especially not in a division with the likes of the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels to compete with. However what the Astros current progress is beginning to show is that what has been considered a lengthy rebuilding experiment might just be finally starting to payoff and earlier than expected at that.
The Astros take on the Orioles again tonight, for their last May game, at Houston’s Minute Maid Park at 8:10pm.