Houston Astros off to a hot start

It’s a month into the young MLB season and the Astros are one of baseball’s top teams. They’re currently leading the AL West, five and a half games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and six games ahead of third-place Seattle.

Predicted by experts to compete for the AL pennant by most preseason pundits, the team has shown they’re worthy of the praise by coming out strong early in the season.

The Astros are the first team in the AL to reach 20 wins this season, and are tied with the Yankees for the best record in the AL. Houston is 16-5 vs. AL West opponents this season, the best record by any team against its own division. In addition, at 21-10, the Astros have their best 31-game start in franchise history.

When the franchise acquired Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick as free agents, then traded for Brian McCann and claimed Nori Aoki on waivers, all in one off season, fans felt this could be the beginning of something big. So far the team has lived up to the hype and many of the teams core players have yet to get hot offensively. That being said, they lead the AL in batting average (.278) and in hits (285).

Certainly when you talk Astros offense you’re talking Jose Altuve, who leads the team with a .305 average. Add to that mix Yuli Gurriel and Brian McCann, both hitting .294, and you get instant productivity.

Though it’s still early the Astros have shown they have the clutch gene, with no deficit being insurmountable. They lead the MLB in comeback wins (13), and have come back to win three games after trailing by five runs.

If there was a question mark about the potential for success of the 2017 Astros it would the starting pitching. The number one question: could staff ace Dallas Keuchel return to his Cy Young winning form from 2015? The early ballots are in and Keuchel seems to have gotten his groove back, winning the AL award for Pitcher of the Month, April.

During the month of April, Keuchel went 5-0 with a complete game and a 1.21 ERA (6ER/44.2IP) in six starts. He allowed only 25 hits and 11 walks, while recording 36 strikeouts in his 44.2 innings pitched. Keuchel led the Major Leagues in wins and innings pitched in the month, while ranking third in the AL in ERA and in opponent batting average (.164).

Keuchel’s start to this season has been one of the best in Astros history, as he became the first pitcher in franchise history to go at least 7.0 innings, while allowing two-or-fewer runs in his first six starts to a season. Additionally, Keuchel’s five wins in April tied the franchise record for the month, also set by Roger Clemens in his Cy Young season of 2004.

Keuchel, who won the AL Pitcher of the Month three times in 2015 (April, May, August), is the first pitcher in franchise history to win a Pitcher of the Month award four times, surpassing J.R. Richard, who won one award in each season of 1978, 1979 and 1980. Keuchel is now one of four active pitchers to have won four American League Pitcher of the Month Awards, joining Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander.

When you combine Keuchel’s success in April with starter Lance McCullers’s 50 strikeouts in April and closer Ken Giles’ eight saves, you can clearly see why the Astros are riding high.

The baseball season is a 162-game marathon, but the Astros have started well. If they can stay the course there are good things ahead in their future.