Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez started the season taking turns hitting 9th or sitting on the bench for the Houston Astros, but through 50 games they were hitting home runs at a faster pace than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig for the 1927 Yankees. After Sunday’s 8-4 win over the Orioles, the Astros are on course for the World Series title that Sports Illustrated predicted three years ago would happen this October.
Ruth and Gehrig led the greatest duo and team in baseball when they hit 107 homers in 1124 at bats in 1927, an incredible 9.52% of all at-bats. Through 50 games Marisnick and Gonzalez hit 17 in 178 at bats. That 9.55% homer to at bat ratio will drop, but the explosive bottom of the order prevents opposing pitchers from any easy pitches between the three young superstars that led to the World Series prediction (Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa) and the three new left handed power hitters (Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, and Carlos Beltran) that resulted from the Astros finally opening their checkbooks after years on the cheap.
The Astros can boast two of the only six starting pitchers with sub-2.50 ERAs through 50 games (2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers) and a bullpen that enables them to have the second best team ERA in baseball – only slightly behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The only team in the past decade to match the Astros 35-16 start through Sunday were last year’s eventual World Champion Chicago Cubs. The Astros do not face their only apparent kryptonite – the Cleveland Indians – again this season. The Astros went 1-5 against Cleveland and are now an incredible 34-11 against the rest of the league, a .756 winning percentage that translates to a 118-38 record and 119-43 factoring in the Cleveland series.
The Sports Illustrated prediction of a 2017 title back in 2014 was made after the Astros compiled one of the worst records in history at 51-111.
However, the Astros analytical process for finding talent with high draft picks resulted in a process so good that it enticed a St. Louis Cardinals executive into hacking to steal their system, netting him a sentence that could result in him watching the Astros win the title while serving a 46-month prison sentence.
The Astros incredible mark comes despite the three young Superstar sluggers – Altuve, Springer and Correa – getting off to slow starts through 50 games. Their combined pace of adding 15.2 wins above a replacement player this year is not nearly as good as their 2016 combined total of 18.7. As for traditional stats, last year they hit a combined .291 with 274 runs batted in, compared to .280 this year and a pace of 246 RBIs for the season.
|Stat Comparison||Top 3 Astros 2016||Pace for 2017|
|Wins Above Replacement||18.7||15.2|
It is highly unlikely the Astros maintain that pace, but baseball fans in Texas who have watched the Texas Rangers come close and the Astros never win a World Series game may finally see a title, though Ranger fans would rather not see their intra-state rival win it all.
The Astros would love to plug their final two needs by beating the Yankees and others to pull off a trade with the Pirates to land a third dominant starting pitcher (Gerrit Cole) and second left hander in the bull pen (closer Tony Watson).
Events such as the adventure that ensues any time a ball is thrown or hit toward first baseman Yuli Gurriel, the Cuban defector who is playing the position for the first time at the age of 33, or a playoff match-up with the Indians, pose threats for the Astros, but they are clearly the team to beat so far this season with a 10-game lead in the AL West heading into a Labor Day trip to Minnesota to face the Twins.