2017 MONTH IN REVIEW – JUNE
Starting Rotation: B- (B+ with the curve)
In a month when Keuchel, McCullers, Morton, Musgrove, and McHugh combined for only eight starts in 26 games, an uptick in the ERA was bound to happen. A hell of a lot is credit is due to one Mike Fiers, whose June 2.32 ERA and 0.968 WHIP with zero homers allowed really helped shore up the rotation when the team needed it most. This level of production from Fiers is not likely to continue but it sure is nice while it lasts. Keuchel and McCullers were characteristically excellent in their injury-limited work. Peacock was more than serviceable with his 3.72 ERA for the month. Martes showed some promise despite his control issues (nine walks in three starts).
I wouldn’t have taken Paulino for a 6.84 ERA in June; maybe it’s because he never factored into a loss, but he did lead the team with seven home runs allowed. Then there’s Musgrove, who pitched himself out of a major league gig with a 10.28 ERA and 1.929 WHIP. He’ll be back eventually, but with McCullers already off the DL and Keuchel, Morton, and McHugh due back within the month, Musgrove may have to wait until September callups (unless the injury bug bites again).
Overall, Astros starters went 12-6 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.292 WHIP. It could’ve been much worse. However, a greater concern is that the rotation only averaged just slightly over five innings per game. This absolutely must improve.
I played a lot of RBI Baseball ‘93 for the Sega Genesis back in the day. One of the things about that game that stuck with me the most (besides Jeff Bagwell’s completely upright batting stance) was how the faceless, generic-looking pitchers would visibly start breathing heavily on the mound when they were tiring.
This is what comes to mind when I think about the Astros bullpen in the month of June. Houston has crept into 6th in MLB in bullpen innings (281); of contending teams, only the Orioles have more (292.2). Additionally, Devenski is tied for the MLB lead in relief innings (48.1) and Feliz is tied for 27th (37). Obviously the bullpen doesn’t decide how many innings it’s going to throw on a given day, but this remains a looming problem nonetheless.
The top performers of the month were Devenski, Harris, and Gregerson, all of whom posted sub-2 ERAs and WHIPs around 1 or less. Hinch also started working Gregerson into some higher-leverage situations, so it wasn’t all garbage time like it was in May. Giles faced the minimum in precisely 30% of his appearances, and the blown-save-plus-loss in Kansas City to snap the 11-game win streak was maddening, but he converted four out of five save opportunities in a month where the Astros only had eight total save opportunities.
This is where things really take a turn. Feliz (6.59), Hoyt (9.00), Diaz (11.18), and Guduan (11.57) all posted objectively bad ERAs. Hoyt was third place on the team (including starters) in home runs allowed with four. Guduan’s WHIP was 2.143, albeit in a relatively small sample size.
In June, the entire bullpen (including Aoki’s 9th inning outing against the Yankees) went 4-5 with five saves, three blown saves, and a 5.35 ERA.
Overall, the Houston staff posted a 4.79 ERA in June, 19th in MLB. McCullers is already back, Morton’s return is imminent, McHugh’s rehab assignment is imminent, and Keuchel will be back soon enough after the break. We should see a sea change if everyone gets healthy and stays healthy.
Offensive production was down some from May, but not by much. In June the Astros scored 157 runs (T-4th in MLB), banged 46 home runs (6th), and posted an MLB-best .294 average, .516 slugging, and .869 OPS, and missed having the best OBP by a thousandth of a point (.353). That OPS was even better than their May mark and 40 points better than the next-best Yankees. Double plays continued trending down as well: after 34 in April and 24 in May, they only hit into 18 in June (7th best in MLB).
On the individual side of things, six players (Reddick, Altuve, Marwin, Springer, Gurriel, Aoki) hit .300 or better, with Correa and McCann missing that mark by less than 10 points. Eight players had at least an .800 OPS, five were .900 or better, and Three players broke 1.000 OPS (Springer, Reddick, Altuve), Correa two broke .900, and four others were over .800 (Gurriel, McCann, Marwin, Marisnick). Springer gave All-Star voters every reason to send him to Miami, hitting .333 and slugging .733.
Outside of some high LOB numbers here and there, the offense is not a problem.
Bringing this down a notch this month, largely because other teams ran with impunity on the Astros, who allowed 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts. That’s second-worst in the majors; only the White Sox were worse at 25 of 26.
After such an unbelievable May it’s easy to be disappointed about the Astros’ June performance. However, after 80% of their Opening Day rotation went on the DL they still went 16-11 on the month; only three teams (Dodgers at 21, Royals and Diamondbacks at 17) won more games. At the exact halfway point of the season the Astros are 54-27. Their division lead actually saw a net gain of 2.5 games. If they merely play .500 ball from here on out they’ll win 94 games.
Plus, after all those big comebacks we’ve been treated to this year, we’ve been reminded a few times of how it feels to have that happen to you.
LOOKING AHEAD TO JULY
Before the break the Astros wrap up the Yankees series, then head to Atlanta for two games and Toronto for four. After the break, they host the Twins and Mariners for three games each, then start a nine-game road trip that takes them to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Detroit. On the last day of the month they come home to start a homestand against the Rays. As of the time of this writing those teams have a combined 341-374 record, with only the Yankees (43-35), Twins (40-39), and Rays (42-40) above .500.