Starting on Monday, the Detroit Tigers will head west for their longest road trip of the season, starting with a four-game series against the Houston Astros.
Ryan Dunsmore, managing editor of The Crawfish Boxes, SB Nation’s excellent Astros community, was gracious enough to entertain some questions about the hottest team in Houston and the upcoming series.
BYB: As I write this, the Astros are currently 29-13, and sitting in first place with a 6.5 game lead on the next best team in the AL West. Your staff at TCB were all pretty bullish on the team in their preseason predictions with half of your writers pegging the Astros for at least 93 wins (and as high as 102). At this stage in the season, how is the team measuring up to those expectations?
Ryan: I would have to say that the Astros have exceeded the expectations that we and the rest of sports media put on Houston at the start of the season. I think everyone at TCB had the thought process that this roster was a few key pieces away from World Series contender. The additions of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Nori Aoki has changed the Astros from a boom-or-bust Chris Carter lineup to a playoff-caliber one-through-nine quality at-bat death row.
The plateau that I would be comfortable with saying the Astros are easily on track to be best in the AL West, which is all I could ask for.
BYB: Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel are both having very strong seasons up to this point. Which of the two do you think is more likely to end up as the MVP of the starting rotation at year’s end?
Ryan: Even having Lance McCullers in this conversation with a three-time gold glove and Cy Young award winning is a success for the young righty. But Dallas Keuchel is far and away the most important pitcher for the Astros this season and if they hope to have success in the postseason it will be with Keuchel as MVP. While the pinched nerve for Keuchel is something to worry about, the team doesn't seem to panic too much about it. It won't be an issue until it lingers. The Astros will survive one start without him.
BYB: What Tigers player are you least looking forward to facing in the upcoming series?
Ryan: Ian Kinsler. Maybe it's his past life as a Ranger or his calculated dropped flyball double play last year. Kinsler always finds a way to impact a series or get under one's skin. It's frankly a compliment to Kinsler.
Kinsler isn't lighting the world on fire at the plate with a 100 wRC+ in 2017, but he always finds a way.
BYB: Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer are leading the team in home runs. Springer was expected, but what's up with Marwin?
Ryan: Marwin has great at-bats that have generated a few of his home runs for him. For his example, on Sunday he had a 13-pitch at-bat against the Indians, which generated a home run. Marwin also made adjustments this offseason, dropping his hands at the plate. The adjustment has resulted in more lift. He's had a five percent increase in fly balls this season (37.5%) but he's had a generous HR/FB rate (37%).
BYB: Are Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve the greatest cross-team bromance of all time?
Ryan: Easily the best. Anytime the two are on base together it is required viewing. I'm not even sure who No. 2 on this list would be?
BYB: The Astros had a busy off season signing Carlos Beltran, Charlie Morton, Nori Aoki, Brian McCann and Josh Reddick. How would you rank that list of players on a scale of "Best thing ever" to "This makes me want to drink"?
Ryan: Reddick, McCann, Morton, Beltran, and Aoki.
Reddick is the clear cut winner for more than one reason, he has been a stable addition to the outfield but also a solid addition to "Club Astros". Club Astros being the fun side of the Astros players, Reddick created a WWE-style belt for a player of the game. He runs around wearing a Spiderman outfit in pregame and added WOOOO to the Astros lexicon. McCann is batting .371 with runners in scoring position. What more could you ask for? Morton's fastball been clocking in around 95 with regularity, which has been a plus. Beltran and Aoki have been solid regulars which Houston hasn't been able to find the past few seasons with the additions of Carlos Gomez, etc.
Thanks again to Ryan for offering up some insight on the Astros. You can find his work, and all the Astros information you need at The Crawfish Boxes.