The Houston Astros dominance of the American League since 2017 is something else. Houston appeared in the World Series in three of the last five years while reaching the ALCS in the other two years. This dynasty has sustained many changes to players, coaching, and front office personnel. It goes to show how much talent the organization has as a whole. There are many reasons why the Astros are a favorite to win the American League pennant en route to another Fall Classic. As for the rest of the league, they have not yet stepped up to their level.
Justin Verlander‘s Dominance
Where would the Astros be without Justin Verlander? Even though the team won the American League pennant in 2021 without Verlander. Houston had ace-level pitching performances from Lance McCullers Jr. and Framber Valdez. Well, the Astros have been without McCullers all year. Not only is 39-year-old Justin Verlander a top Cy Young contender, but he has also made up for any other losses the team has experienced in the rotation. Verlander is currently 15-3 with a highly impressive 1.95 ERA and 197 ERA+ that lead the American League. He also has a 0.881 WHIP and 2.88 FIP, ranking second with 143 1/3 innings pitched. His 8.7 K/9 is low relative to his 2018-2019 run but in line with peak-Justin Verlander from 2009-2013 (9.2 K/9).
Taking one look at Verlander’s game log shows that he has consistently pitched like an ace. He has pitched six or more innings in 19 of his 22 starts. Even in his lone blowup start against Seattle on May 27th, he still managed to pitch six innings. Verlander has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 20 of 22 starts. Furthermore, he’s allowed only one or zero earned runs in 15 of his starts. By comparison, Toronto’s two best pitchers, Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah, have combined for 18 such starts. Both pitchers will finish top-10 in Cy Young voting. It proves how good Verlander has been from start to finish. The future Hall of Famer has led an Astros pitching staff that has been the best all season.
A Great Pitching Staff
Justin Verlander is leading by example this year. The Houston Astros pitching staff has a collective 17.7 fWAR, which ranks just ahead of the Dodgers and Braves for first in the sport. The rotation has put up a 13.1 fWAR while leading the AL in ERA (3.11) and HR/9 (0.98) and placing second in FIP (3.57). The starters also lead the league in innings and pitching wins by a pretty wide margin. Say what you will about wins, but I think leading the league in both wins and innings reflects the staff’s success. The starters pitch well and deep into games while putting less pressure on their bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, it ranks 6th in baseball with 4.7 fWAR. Despite the bullpen ranking dead last in the sport in innings pitched, the Astros have achieved this. Considering that WAR is a cumulative stat, this shows how great Houston’s relievers have been. They have posted a 2.90 ERA and 3.22 FIP, which lead the league, and a 9.93 K/9 figure that ranks fourth. The performance of their pitchers this season makes the Astros the favorite to return to the world series. Only a few other teams in the entire sport come close to Houston’s perfect balance of quality and quantity from starters and relievers.
The Best of Both Worlds
Yordan Alvarez is only 25 years old and in his fourth season, but he is already the best pure hitter in the sport. Alvarez not only has elite power, but he also has great contact skills and plate discipline. Alvarez’s slash line on the year is .295/.400/.616, which is good for a 1.016 OPS and 186 wRC+. He ranks in the 98th percentile or better in walk rate, barrel rate, hard-hit rate, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and average exit velocity. His 19.4% strikeout rate is better than league average and a vast improvement from his career 23% strikeout rate. It’s a pretty safe bet that Yordan Alvarez will be one of baseball’s best hitters for years to come.
Houston has a great lineup around Alvarez. The Astors lineup boasts three other players with a 130 wRC+ or higher in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker. Even with OF/DH Michael Brantley and his 129 wRC+ out for the year due to injury, Houston’s offense still has about nine hitters with above-average slash lines. They have six hitters with walk rates above 10% and eight with strikeout rates under 20%. It is safe to say that there are no real easy-outs in the lineup. Having an offense like that matters in the postseason as they will be facing the opposition’s best pitchers nightly. It’s very realistic to see why the Astros are a good bet to return to the world series.
After all, it will be Alvarez, Verlander, and Altuve leading the Houston Astros to the World Series. Except, it’s not hard to look at the rest of the American League as a good reason why the Astros are the favorite. The Yankees are the only team that has performed to Houston’s level this season. However, since early July, New York has struggled big time, dealing with underperformance or injuries from multiple aspects of their team. Whether it is injuries, inconsistent offense or pitching, or poor managing, no other contender in the AL is more than 10 games above .500 for a reason. No team has stepped up and proven they can beat the Astros.