By NEAL FARMER
The Astros have entered the stratosphere. Houston and the LA Dodgers both have at least 60 wins. It is the first time two clubs have reached 60 wins before the break in the same season since the Cubs and Orioles in 1969. For further proof how dominant the Astros have been in 2017: In 28 series Houston has a 20-6-2 record.
I think the team will continue to be great in the second half of the season. The Astros magic number has to be less than 50 and they may hit that in August.
But even with a ridiculously low magic number to the playoffs, Houston’s focus has to change. The Astros should not look at the regular season any more but how they match up with Cleveland, New York and Boston — the teams they most likely will face in the post-season – and adjust accordingly. Earlier in the year, Cleveland had the Astros’ number.
Post-season doesn’t take into account how many overall wins a team has, but how well they perform in a short series. The Houston bullpen struggled in June, and that is where I think Houston will be vulnerable in the playoffs.
As all know, four of five starters have been out, which meant more work than usual for the bullpen. The pen did not respond well, as its ERA was 5.14 in June. Houston relievers took the mound 95 times that month, with 103.1 innings pitched, according to an MLB note. They were the beneficiaries of an unbelievable offense and not their own skill.
On the positive side, injured starters are returning, with Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton back on the hill. Dallas Keuchel should pitch after the All-Star break. Colin McHugh is a mystery, and is an unknown for the second half of the season.
The miraculous recovery of Mike Fiers and Brad Peacock as starters was a godsend. The team also has Francis Martes, but he is spotty at best. That could mean more innings for starters.
To keep up with the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians, I think Houston needs a left-handed reliever. A starter wouldn’t be bad, but a proven reliever will assist the bullpen, which, I think is the Achilles heel of the Astros for all their playoff scenarios.
THREE OVERTURNED PLAYS – Some people complain about the length of baseball games. I am not one of those people. I feel anything can happen at any time in a baseball game. I have been watching the sport for decades and there still is something new that happens almost every week.
I also like the palpable tension in the cat-and-mouse game between the pitchers and batters.
Houston was part of three overturned plays on Sunday during the 19-1 win at Toronto under the new review system, but I was OK with that because they got the plays right.
And, what strikes me is the civility that the managers and players have toward the umpires when plays are in question. In the past, a manager could be tossed because of his aggressive negotiations with the umpires – and it was part of the theater of baseball.
There used to be a TV ad that strapped a Timex watch to a downhill skier, and other people who participated in dangerous sports, and the last part of the commercial was how the watch “took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’.” I remember when you could strap a watch on the tongues of Tommy Lasorda of LA during an argument with an ump, and the watch would be decimated. (East coasters can substitute Earl Weaver of Baltimore for Lasorda.)
MOST RUNS IN AN MLB SEASON ON THE ROAD – If you had not watched any of their games, the Yankees of the 1930s had the Babe, the Yankee Clipper and the Iron Horse. (Google them.) They hammered other teams. (I am assuming that no one who saw those 1930s teams is reading this. If so, let me buy you a beer, or at least some new Velcro shoes.)
I am interested to see what nicknames Springer, Correa and Altuve receive. But the Astros will have to keep this up for at least five more years to earn the respect that the Yankees did in the 1930s. The good thing is that the 2017 team is young and built to hammer people for years.
Most runs scored in an MLB season on the road since 1913:
Yankees 1939 7.80
Yankees 1930 7.58
Yankees 1936 7.35
Astros 2017 7.13*
Yankees 1994 6.77
Yankees 1931 6.69
Yankees 1932 6.58
Yankees 1933 6.57
* halfway point
WILDEST PLAY OF THE TORONTO SERIES – The wildest play wasn’t on the field this past weekend for the Astros, but on top of a nearby observatory. Root Sports followed people to the top of CN Tower in Toronto – the 9TH TALLEST FREE-STANDING STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD AT 1,815.3 FEET TALL. A group put on prefabricated red suits with a notch that hooked onto a guide wire on the outside of the top of the tower. Then they leaned over the edge of the superstructure, looking straight down and being held in place only by the guide wire. We’re talking Spider-Man here, doing this solely because it was there.
Root Sports hired a helicopter to get some of the TV shots of people leaning over the side of the tower and looking over the edge. Like Yogi Berra said: “You can see a lot just by observing.” And I observed that these people on top of that building were morons.
It appears I have vertigo that I previously was unaware of, because my palms were sweating and I was almost nauseous when Root Sports showed the videos of people leaning over the outside ledge. It was even more visceral than seeing Root Sports Julia Morales eating a delicacy plate of grasshoppers at Safeco Field in Seattle.
80-YEAR MYSTERY APPEARS TO BE SOLVED – Not only were the New York Yankees unable to be solved in the 1930s, so was the mystery of disappearance of pilot Amelia Earhart in 1937. So, the 2017 Astros have caught up with some of the Yankees teams and the Earhart mystery seems to have been solved – both this week. https://thehornnews.com/expert-amelia-earhart-mystery-solved-newly-discovered-pic-historians-freaking/
GRANDMOTHER PHEREMONES ALL OVER DODGER STADIUM – A hot grandmother flashed the crowd on the Jumbotron at Dodger Stadium. If only there was a way to make her the Hottie of the Day. http://deadspin.com/flashin-granny-flashes-dodger-stadium-via-videoboard-1796753558
CLASSICAL NOTES – There was a minor controversy involving classical music last week during July 4th celebrations: The Houston Symphony used recorded sounds of cannons instead of the real things at the Miller Outdoor Theater while playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” The symphony listed “logistical reasons” as the reason for the substitute rounds. A spokesman told the Houston Chronicle that some last year had feared for their safety when the symphony used live blasts from gun powder to simulate the sound and the resulting flash-lighting. In other words, it looked like a rock show with (Guns and Roses, Madonna, AC/DC, Prince – or insert your best pyrotechnic experience here).
The symphony did use real cannons the night before when playing the same piece at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. Eight cannons were used, each fired twice for the 16 blasts needed that Tchaikovsky wrote, according to the Chronicle.
Somehow, the 1812 overture is used on July 4th celebrations throughout the USA. The piece was written by the Russian as a celebration of the Red Army repelling French forces under Napoleon in 1812. That’s why the theme of the French national anthem is heard throughout the piece.
Tchaikovsky literally shocked the world when he debuted the piece in 1880 and used actually Howitzers in the composition.
I am 99.9 percent sure that Americans stole the Russian piece for July 4 celebrations because cannons go well with fireworks. The symphony has agreed to look into using real cannons again next year.
Who said the symphony was boring?
QUOTES OF THE DAY – “Why does the Astros offense sound like the 1812 Overture?” – wimps in Houston at the Houston Symphony concert who “feared for their lives” when pyrotechnic cannons were fired July 4, 2016.
“Bring on the Astros’ offense and the cannons.” – everyone in The Woodlands
HOTTIE OF THE DAY