*Originally written for FanRag Sports’ Today’s Knuckleball on Oct. 1, 2015
Astros seeing a home run resurgence in season’s final days
About a month ago the Houston Astros’ lead in the American League West was slipping from their grasp. They had been in first place in the division almost everyday since mid-April and were slowly losing ground to the Texas Rangers.
Now it’s a three-way chase for the AL West and second wild card spot, which could possibly even end in a three-way tie between the Astros, the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. The Angels had been behind in the race most of the season, the Oakland A’s and Mariners were out and the Rangers have come surging out of obscurity to suddenly be the favorite for what looked like the Astros’ first AL West title.
Around that time, as I noticed how the Astros were faltering, I realized that they were not hitting home runs at the same pace they had been in the first half of the season. The pace they were hitting the ball out of the yard early in the season was something rarely seen in the game of baseball. Even as a fan of a rival team, I marveled at their home run production.
Still, at the time I wondered if the Astros would be able to keep hitting homers at this pace all season and the likely answer to a question like that in baseball is no. Usually on the whole, things seem to average themselves out. On May 21 they were leading the league in long balls but had a team batting average of just .229; if their home run production slowed, so would their number of wins along with the lead in the division.
That is what happened once the second half of the season hit. The Astros were hitting fewer home runs and lost their lead for a short stretch of games in July to the Angels. They regained it and were able to hold on to that lead, sometimes just barely, until September 15 when they were surpassed by the Rangers. They have not been back in first place since.
On August 31, I wrote about the Astros’ falling home run statistics in hopes that George Springer’s return from the disabled list might spark the team back to the way they were hitting balls out of the yard in the first half of 2015.
George Springer’s return on September 4th didn’t help spark the Astros in the home run department but something has turned the Astros’ ability to go deep around in their last ten games. In the last 10 games, the Astros have gone 6-4; all but one of those losses was decided by two or fewer runs and over that span the team has combined to hit 21 home runs. With their team batting average ranking so low in the league, the Astros need to continue on their little home run streak.
Chris Carter, who lost out on the AL home run title to Nelson Cruz last season by all of three homers, has had a tough year batting just .196 but now with 24 home runs this season, it seems he has been the one to spark the resurgence. He has hit six home runs in his last seven starts and 12 games overall. In fact, it was his three run bomb in the sixth inning Wednesday, that ended up giving the Astros the lead. By the end of the night, he had given them back sole possession of the AL second wild card spot.
Now the talk is about what could happen within the next four days. With Houston having three games left against the Arizona Diamondbacks and both Los Angeles and Texas each having four in which they play each other, it is possible that the AL West could finish the season in a three-way tie with the Angels clinching the wild card due to their superior records against both Texas teams during the season.
However, the Astros have the easier schedule, and if they can keep hitting long balls the way they have been over their last ten games, their sudden power renaissance could very likely land them a spot in the postseason.