Starting Rotation: A-
It feels to me like the rotation took three steps forward and maybe 1-1½ steps backward. Keuchel’s May numbers are inflated largely because of that big 9th inning in Anaheim, and aside from that and missing one start he was usually excellent. McCullers was an absolute monster on the mound, allowing just four earned runs in the entire month. Morton was slightly improved over April, although his walks almost doubled. Peacock showed some promise with 16 K’s in his two starts, and was cruising in Minneapolis until he ran into a buzzsaw in the 5th inning. Overall, Astros starters allowed two earned runs or less in 19 of 29 games. While the team didn’t win all of those games, more often than not the starters did a really good job of setting the table for a W.
Musgrove was basically the same pitcher in May that he was in April, with nearly identical numbers across the board.
Although it may not have felt like it at times, Fiers was actually slightly improved in May, throwing two quality starts and nudging his ERA under 5 for the first time since his first start of the season. He allowed two more home runs than he did in April (albeit in two more starts) and nearly doubled his strikeouts. If he can get down to, and hover in, the 4.50-4.75 range – basically averaging a minimum quality start – I think the Astros would happily take that every five days.
The problem is that nothing happens in a vacuum, and the injuries to Morton (likely prolonged) and Musgrove (hopefully minor and non-recurring) put additional pressure on Fiers, to say nothing of the arms that will be taking Morton’s and Musgrove’s places. The team’s success to this point has been fantastic and they have built themselves a nice cushion, but even with a generally light June schedule (see below) it remains to be seen whether this level of success is sustainable when Fiers is effectively your #3. And while we can cling to the hope that McHugh and Morton can eventually come back and contribute at a #3-#4 level, their returns – much less that level of performance – are hardly guaranteed.
If I were Jeff Luhnow I’d be keeping my cell phone charged.
The Astros got some really good contributions from the bullpen in the month of May. Giles, Harris, Peacock, Feliz, and Hoyt all had pretty good months with only one or two mostly inconsequential bumps in the road for each. Unfortunately for Devenski, his bumps in the road were game-changers, taking two losses and a blown save. Harris, Giles, and Devenski have combined for just six innings since May 25.
Sipp improved quite a bit, although 34 of the 36 batters he faced were in low leverage situations. Gregerson’s ERA was mostly skewed by his bad outings against the Rangers; he only allowed two runs for the rest of the month, although, like Sipp, many of the batters he faced were in low leverage situations.
The Astros have climbed from 3rd to 2nd in ERA in MLB, although the team ERA for the season went up just a couple of notches (3.37 to 3.49). In the month of May they pitched three shutouts, led the majors in strikeouts (299) and saves (14), and are in the top 5 or better in many other categories. To quote myself from April’s post-mortem, “It’s been a pretty good month.” Again.
I really don’t see any other grade to give here.
The Astros scored a whopping 180 runs in May, 21 more than the closest team and 68 more than they scored in April. Marwin and Correa went on an absolute tear. Altuve didn’t do too badly for himself either. Seven regulars topped an .800 OPS for the month and Beltran at .795 narrowly missed being the 8th. Only Aoki and Gurriel had what could be considered “bad” months.
The Astros grounded into ten fewer double plays than in April, allowing several other teams to catch up to them. Boston is now MLB’s worst in that department with 59 (Astros have 58), and they have some company not far behind.
Not much new to write here this month. The outfield defense is up to ten assists on the year. The infield is still prone to the occasional head-scratcher but is solid overall. They gunned down six runners on the basepaths (three more than in April) which is fairly average for the month.
I remain unconvinced about defensive statistics, as I refuse to believe the Astros are the 6th-worst defense in baseball. When your left fielders lead MLB in assists at that position (7), yet all of your left fielders have a negative DEF, something is terribly wrong.
Houston went 22-7 in May, a blistering .759 win percentage that is tops in baseball for the month and the best month in Astros history. This fact is made even more impressive considering that a good chunk of it was done against contending teams (12-2 against the Yankees, Tigers, Orioles, and Twins). At 38-16 they own baseball’s best record and a double-digit lead in the AL West. Their 103-win pace from April has improved to 114 wins, an end-of-May pace that has not been accomplished since the 2001 Mariners, who went on to win 117 games. Getting swept by the Indians at home is maybe the only blemish on what was an otherwise outstanding month of baseball, and the only thing preventing me from giving an A+.
However, I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that the health and performance of the starting rotation beyond Keuchel and McCullers is a huge concern for the team’s postseason prospects and beyond.
The next 60 days will be very interesting to watch, both on the field and in the transaction list.
LOOKING AHEAD TO JUNE
After spending much of May playing teams outside their division, June brings a return to many AL West opponents: they get the Rangers for six games, the A’s for seven, and three apiece against the Angels and Mariners. Thus far Houston has thrashed its division foes to the tune of a 17-6 record with a +41 run differential. They also get four games against the Royals, who have (at the time of this writing) the worst record in the AL.
The Red Sox also come to town for a three-game set. Except for a series with the Yankees that starts on June 30, the Sawks are the only team currently over .500 the Astros will see in June.