Last season I wrote a post on how team could have both their league’s batting champion and home run champion and still finish in last place.
I am of course referring to the Houston Astros. Although they didn’t end up in last place in the American League West or with the AL home run champion, it all still could have happened. It could happen again.
The Astros’ finished only three games above the last place Texas Rangers and slugger Chris Carter finished just three home runs shy of tying Nelson Cruz for the most home runs in Major League Baseball. They did end up with the batting champion in the form of their pint-sized dynamo of a second baseman, Jose Altuve.
Now they are in a very different position, but my question is this: how different is it really? Could the Astros end up in a similar position this season as they did in 2014?
At first glance, at least with the way they have played so far this season, most people would say no. I’m not saying that they will or they won’t, just that it could be a possibility.
Currently the Astros are in first place in the AL West by a five and a half games above the second place Los Angeles Angels and 13 games above the last place Oakland Athletics.
Being in first place, even in May, is certainly different for the Astros. It’s been a decade since the Astros were last in the postseason where they were swept, in the franchise’s only World Series appearance, by the Chicago White Sox.
(*On a side note the only Houston team to ever win a championship would be the Houston Rockets of the NBA, who won two in 1994 and 1995. No Texas Major League Baseball team has ever won a World Series).
Yet besides being in first place, this year isn’t all that different for the Houston Astros statistically – at least from last season. They are hitting the ball hard and right now are leading the league in home runs with 63 (MLB.com has 62, ESPN has 65 but I counted 63).
Yet, they are also second in the league among teams with the most strikeouts.
And despite Jose Altuve’s best efforts and his .319 average, the Astros are last in the league in team batting average at .229.
Compare them to the last place Athletics. The A’s are leading the league in errors and their bullpen is a mess but they’re hitting the ball pretty well and hard, and haven’t nearly as many strikeouts as the Astros.
You also should take a look at the 2014 Athletics who led all of baseball in just about every category until the calendar turned to July. Their pitching stayed strong but their bats stopped working almost completely. I personally saw them lose many 1-0 or 2-0 games during July, August and September of last season.
What happens to the Astros if their home run production drops down to even a normal level of production? Do they have the propensity to score enough runs to win games without the long ball and a team batting average of .229? Probably not.
As the A’s learned the hard way last season that pitching alone can’t sustain you.
Again I am NOT saying that this is going to happen to Houston. Still it is entirely possible for the Astros to end up not running away with the AL West because keeping up this kind of home run production throughout the entire season would be unusual, wouldn’t you say?
What I’m saying is that things can change and that they can change in literally overnight. When it happened in Oakland it happened WELL BEFORE the day Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester, as many people still believe.
It wasn’t that trading away prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney had anything to do with the A’s bats beginning to slow down, but that was closer to the time the tide was beginning to turn, for the 2014 Oakland Athletics.
My point is that with few exceptions, such as the 2001 Seattle Mariners who won 116 games, things average out. It might be sound silly but I call it the “law of averages.” Eventually things even out.
Eventually the A’s won’t keep making errors and their bullpen will come together. They just brought in a defensive guru in Ron Washington to begin deal with an issue as simple, but as devastating, as having a talented shortstop who is struggling and pushing too hard in an attempt to not make errors.
The Astros poor batting average and stike out numbers could just as easily and quickly begin to catch up to them. The only member of their team with a batting average over .300 is Altuve.
That type thing is what normally happens and is the reason why we don’t see teams winning 120 games every year.
The Astros have pitching that can carry them but not if they stop hitting this incredible number of home runs.
The A’s have pitching depth and time on their side to fix their bullpen. As far as errors go, they may not disappear but they’ll likely even out, in the manner that the Astros strikeout numbers may catch up to them.
Or maybe not. I’m speculating based on past observations. This is baseball and truly, anything can and will happen. The Chicago Cubs could win the World Series, I don’t know.
Yet, I believe in my “law of averages” theory – or at least my version of it – but I think that the course of this season may change and few will see it until it has already been set in motion, just like the A’s second half collapse last season.