Newspaper article International New York Times

Astros Start the Season Revamped and on Top ; Both Pitching and Hitting Are Better, and Houston Has Best Record in A.L

Newspaper article International New York Times

Astros Start the Season Revamped and on Top ; Both Pitching and Hitting Are Better, and Houston Has Best Record in A.L

Article excerpt

Improved relief pitching and hitting have helped Houston, which was 70-92 last season, get off to an 18-9 start, the best in the American League.

With more than a month gone in the baseball season, there is an unexpected team at the top of the standings: the Houston Astros, long a major league doormat. A 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Monday night ended a 10-game winning streak, but Houston still had the best record in the American League, 18-9 heading into Wednesday.

After three straight 100-loss seasons, the Astros improved last year to 70-92. Though more respectable, the team still seemed a long way from contention, making this year's fast start quite a surprise.

Last year Houston ranked 14th in runs scored, ahead only of Tampa Bay in the American League; this year it ranked fifth in the A.L. after Tuesday's games. On the other side of the ball, Houston was 12th in runs allowed in 2014; this year it ranked second.

Like most teams, especially bad ones, the Astros made moves in the off-season, dropping struggling players and trying to land better replacements. They acquired no big names; still, something has clearly changed for the better.

Second baseman Jose Altuve was the bright spot last year, and far and away the team's best hitter, at .341. Outfielders George Springer and Dexter Fowler hit O.K., and designated hitter Chris Carter had 37 home runs, but after that it was ugly.

Teams generally expect a lot of offense from their first basemen, but Jon Singleton, considered a top prospect, hit just .168. Another first baseman, Jesus Guzman, hit .188. Third baseman Matt Dominguez hit .215, with 29 walks in 607 plate appearances.

The weakest hitters have been cleared out: Singleton and Dominguez are back in the minors; Guzman is playing with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Altuve is again playing great, hitting . …

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