The first month of the 2021 Major League Baseball season has come and gone. It was an up and down month for a lot of baseball, but perhaps no one more so than the 2021 Houston Astros. Houston began the season 6-1, then lost nine of their next ten. They ended the month winning seven of their final nine. All said, Houston is 14-12 entering play on Saturday, May 1. These are some Astros takeaways from a streaky first month of the season.
Despite some COVID issues in the middle of April, Houston leads the American League in runs scored, 131. They have a run differential of +31, also best in the AL. Home runs haven’t really been a part of this offense to this point, as the team has only blasted 26 homers, 12th in the AL. The biggest Astros takeaway in April is that this team can win without the long ball. What has driven this offense is their bullets in the gap, 51 doubles: second in the AL, and their ability to hit for average, .257 team average: fourth in the AL. The Astros have quite a few individuals that have fueled this potent lineup.
The 2021 Houston Astros have had pretty good production throughout the lineup, but the offensive MVP’s to this point would be Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley. Gurriel is slashing .344/.443/.556 while leading the team in hits (31), RBI (16), and walks (16). He’s also only struck out 11 times. Brantley is slashing .345/.374/.552 while leading the team in runs scored (17), doubles (10), and extra base hits (13).
Even though Houston has scored the most runs in the AL through April, there is still room to grow. Despite leading the team in homers with five, Kyle Tucker is batting .181 with a .238 on-base percentage. No one expects Martin Maldonado to have elite production, but they need more from him than a .102/.172/.153 slashline with no RBI. Myles Straw has given good at-bats and has stolen five bases, but he is only hitting .212 with a .289 on-base.
Even if Tucker, Maldonado, and Straw don’t get going, this lineup is dangerous. If they do get going, their ceiling is even higher. Health permitting, this lineup appears to be among the best baseball has to offer.
The pitching staff hasn’t been as consistent as the offense, but it’s still filled with a lot of potential. As an entire staff, they have a 3.80 ERA, seventh in the AL. There has been some good and some bad, and the good has been really good.
The brightest spot in the rotation has been Cristian Javier, who has been dominant. The 24-year-old rigth-handed pitcher has a 0.87 ERA through four starts, showcasing the potential he has. Though a little inconsistent, Zack Greinke continues to pitch well, posting a 3.44 ERA in six starts. Similarly, Lance McCullers Jr. has a 3.38 ERA through five starts.
Luis Garcia has five appearances, with three starts, and he has been good, giving up six runs in 20 innings. Despite his good start to the season, he is 0-3. Ryan Pressly was pretty good in 2020, but he has been way better than that in 2021. In ten appearances, the veteran has given up two runs, one earned, and saved three games. The second most consistent reliever has been Ryne Stanek. Stanek has twelve appearances on the season, giving up three runs and posting a 0.568 WHIP.
There has been some bad as well. Leading the way has been new addition Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi has started three games and he has given up nine runs in those starts. Even worse, he left his last start in the first inning due to arm tightness. He was diagnosed with a right pronator muscle strain and place on the Injured List. More bad as Pedro Baez was moved to the 60 day Injured List after a recent setback. He was supposed to be a key part of the bullpen, but it seems he won’t make his team debut until at least June.
Everything rides on health, but this is a dangerous team up and down the lineup and pitching staff. This team could become even stronger if Framber Valdez returns from his fractured finger. According to pitching coach Brent Strom, Valdez is “way ahead of schedule.” Houston is 13-7 against teams above .500 this season. If they can take care of business against teams below .500, they can overtake the Oakland Athletics at the top of the AL West. The Astros had a solid April, but they are looking for more in May. By the end of May, the 2021 Houston Astros could very well be at the top of the division and perhaps the AL as a whole.
Players mentioned: Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, Martin Maldonado, Myles Straw, Cristian Javier, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Jake Odorizzi, Pedro Baez, Framber Valdez
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images