But one of the most overlooked developments of the 2017 campaign is how well the Houston Astros are hitting. And that might be underselling it — the 2017 Astros are close to putting themselves alongside the New York Yankees teams that boasted the Murderers’ Row of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the late 1920s and early 1930s as one of the best-hitting teams of all time.
The Yankees set the standard for major league hitting in 1927, outscoring opponents by 371 runs with legends Ruth and Gehrig hitting 60 and 47 home runs, respectively. The Yankees finished first in the American League by 19 games ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics and led the league in runs scored (976, 134 more than the Detroit Tigers), home runs (158, 49 more than the New York Giants), RBI (907, 140 more than the Athletics), batting average (. 307) and on-base-plus-slugging precentage (0.872).
This year’s Astros lead the majors in batting average (. 285) and OPS (. 834) with 210 home runs, the third most in baseball this season. Overall, Houston is creating runs at a rate that is 23 percent higher than the league average after adjusting for league and park effects (123 wRC+), just three percentage points behind the 1927 Yankees (126 wRC+) for the highest in baseball history.
Most notable about Houston’s offensive explosion is that it came with shortstop Carlos Correa on the disabled list for six weeks. Activated to the roster Sunday, the 22-year-old all-star was an MVP candidate, batting .320 with 20 home runs and a .966 OPS, creating runs at a rate that was 53 percent higher than the league average before his injury, 28 percent higher when batting fourth in the lineup. Now that he’s back in his customary cleanup spot, the Astros only figure to improve from here. In his absence, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann combined to hit .286 with a .733 OPS in addition to a below-average 96 wRC+.
|Jul 18 to Sep 2||PA||AVG||OPS||wRC+|
|Astros No. 4 hitters||182||0.286||0.733||96|
Correa’s return to the lineup isn’t the sole reason to think the Astros can etch their names in the record books. According to Steamer projections, George Springer, Jose Altuve and Correa are each expected to create runs at a rate that is 30 percent higher than the league average for the rest of the season, ranking them 14th, 15th, and 18th, respectively, in terms of expectations. Only the Dodgers are projected to have three hitters in the top 30, yet their average wRC+ is expected to be lower than Houston’s (128 vs 132).
Having such good hitting has obvious benefits, particularly for the team’s starting pitchers. The Astros’ starting rotation gets a major league high 5.7 runs per start — one run more than average — helping ease the pain of the rotation’s lack of quality starts, six or more innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed, which account for 39 percent of their games, ninth lowest in baseball in 2017.
The increased run support should help right-handed starter Justin Verlander, acquired Friday from the Detroit Tigers for three prospects.
Verlander, the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner, got 4.9 runs in support from the Tigers this season with 18 quality starts in 28 chances (64 percent). If he had Houston’s run support in Detroit, his win-loss record would be 13-5 instead of 10-8, and his ERA would drop from 3.82 to 3.50 due to park effects, making this one more reason to like Houston’s chances to make its first World Series appearance since 2005.