Will the Astros Beat MLB Odds and Win the AL Pennant?

Posted by Alex Murphy on Thursday,June 4, 2015 4:30, EDT in

At the beginning of the 2015 season, most people thought that the Houston Astros’ MLB odds would be better than they had been in 2014. Maybe not a lot better, but a little better. They had Jose Altuve, the American League batting champion from 2014, and more pieces would be showing up from the minors to help them.

Of course, after 48 games, the Astros sit atop the American League West with a record of 30-18. Their winning percentage (.625) is the second best in the whole league. They are on a pace to win 101 games, but even if they slow down and only win 91, they will still have the best two-year improvement of any major league team since World War II. In 2013, they went 51-111, and winning 91 games in 2015 would be a 40-game swing. The Miracle Mets of 1969 made a 39-game improvement over their 1967 finish, so the Astros have a chance to make history.

Will the Astros Beat MLB Odds and Win the AL Pennant?



It wasn’t that long ago that the Astros were going nowhere fast. In 2005, the team had finally made it to its first World Series, only to be taken apart by Ozzie Guillen’s Chicago White Sox. The team had made the playoffs six of nine years, but the talent pool that had yielded Lance Berkman, Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt and others had stopped producing as the team had wanted to save money instead of drafting well. In 2009, the Astros lost 88 games and gave up 127 more runs than they scored, with lineups and pitching staffs that were the oldest in both leagues. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the team respectively lost 106, 107 and 111 games.

In 2011, Jim Crane had bought the team and brought in Jeff Luhnow as his general manager, and Luhnow’s strategy was to make the Astros as bad as possible – so that they could become good as quickly as possible. They shipped every veteran with any trade value out of town. The awful results brought them the first overall picks in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts, the first team ever to pull off that trifecta.

What did this mean? The Astros spent three seasons not even pretending to try to win. However, they have brought in a huge amount of talent at the elite level. Some of it will never pan out, but there was a reason that Sports Illustrated put them on the cover last summer with the headline: Your 2017 World Series Champs.

Even now, though, the Astros appear like 2017 might mark a year in which they win their second title, as signs are looking good today. After the 2014 season, the Astros signed some short-term free agents such as Chad Qualls and Scott Feldman and brought up prospects Jon Singleton and George Springer. They still only won 70 games, but that was a 19-game improvement.

Then some off-field distractions got in the way, of course. Someone hacked the team’s corporate database and posted sensitive documents (such as trade discussion notes online) for everyone to see. The Astros ended up firing manager Bo Porter in September, even though they only had given him a Triple-A lineup with which to contend. They messed up negotiations with their #1 2014 pick, Brady Aiken, when a physical indicated a problem in Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament that also cost them Jacob Nix, their fifth-round pick.

Even so, the 2015 season opened with an Astros team more talented than it had been in a decade. However, the team also had a reputation for loving numbers more than people. But then things turned the Astros’ way. Remember Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament? It popped 13 pitches into his first IMG Academy start, and he needed Tommy John surgery. The Astros’ hot start, though, has people focused on the field. They currently lead the leak in steals, strikeouts and home runs. Four other teams have done it – and two (the 1938 Yankees and the 1976 Reds) won the World Series. Things still look good for the Astros, even though the Rangers appear to be catching up to them.

Wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozzie_Guillén)
ESPN.com (http://espn.go.com/mlb/player/_/id/31206/jon-singleton)