For the past five years, the hallmark of the Houston Astros has been its’ deep, daunting lineup. Since 2017, Houston has had one of the best offenses in baseball. However, through the first month or so of the season, this has not been the case. The lineup has looked pedestrian compared to seasons past. Their .217 team batting average is 12th in the AL among 15 teams. In most offensive categories, they are middle of the pack. Despite the struggles on the offensive side, Houston enters Tuesday with a record of 18–11, and a win streak of seven. The strength of this team thus far has been its’ pitching. The Astros’ pitching staff has kept this team in nearly every ball game as the offense starts to wake up.
When the team announced that Lance McCullers Jr. wouldn’t be ready to begin the season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the starting staff. Would Justin Verlander be the same guy coming off Tommy John surgery? Would Jake Odorizzi be able to give Houston quality innings? Finally, would the young starters continue to take steps forward? So far, these questions have been answered and then some.
Through five starts entering Tuesday, Verlander appears to be back and better than ever. In 32 1/3 innings, he has posted a 1.93 ERA and a 0.70 WHIP. The pitches have basically looked the same as they did before the surgery as well, which is a good sign. It will be interesting to see how he fares as the season goes on, but the early returns have proven fruitful.
In 2021, Odorizzi was Houston’s most inconsistent pitcher, posting a 4.21 ERA in just over 100 innings. To start this year, he struggled mightily. Over his first three starts, the veteran gave up nine runs in nine innings. According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Odorizzi had a conversation with Verlander about pitching and mindsets after his slow start. In his three starts since, Odorizzi has given up one run over 17 2/3 innings, lowering his ERA from 9.00 to 3.38.
With McCullers Jr. out, the Astros needed more strong pitching from their young pitchers: Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, and Cristian Javier. Of this group, Urquidy is the only one with an ERA over 3.50. Javier has become quite the weapon on this Astros pitching staff. In six appearances this season (two starts), Javier has a 0.83 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP.
Over the past few seasons, it has sometimes been a struggle to piece together outs leading up to Ryan Pressly in the ninth. This year that has not been the case. Hector Neris and Rafael Montero have emerged to be the bridge that Houston has needed. Neris has given up just one run in 14 innings this season, while Montero has given up one run in 12 1/3 innings. While they probably won’t be able to maintain sub-1.00 ERA’s all year, they are weapons who have made this bullpen one of the strongest in the league.
The Astros’ pitching staff as a whole has a 2.95 ERA, which is second in the AL. Their staff has kept this team afloat as their bats figure things out. During this seven-game win streak, the lineup has shown signs of waking up. If the offense catches up with the pitching staff, the Astros can reclaim the top spot in the AL West.
Embed from Getty Images