7 unsung heroes of the Astros' incredible start

May 21st, 2019

You probably know many of the reasons the Astros have MLB's best record and largest division lead: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa. You may also know about their reliance on data-driven decisions under president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow, the architect of it all.

Manager AJ Hinch is no secret, either. In five seasons on the job, Hinch has become the prototype of what almost every club is looking for in a manager. Only Joe Maddon has won more games in that time.

The 32-16 Astros, who lead the American League West by 8 1/2 games, had a 10-game winning streak -- their second of the season -- snapped with a 4-3 loss at Fenway Park on Sunday. Despite that, Houston remains positioned to be the third franchise in the last 48 years to string together three straight 100-win seasons, as it continues a 10-game homestand against the White Sox, Red Sox and Cubs this week and next.

To be 32-16 means the core players have been about as good as the Astros hoped they would be. But it also means Houston has received contributions from every corner of its clubhouse.

Here are seven unsung heroes during the Astros' start:

1) Josh Reddick, RF: We may never know if Luhnow came close to dealing Reddick in the offseason or if it was just chatter. Hinch has remained steadfastly in Reddick’s corner, seeing him as a contributor both at the plate and in right field. However, Reddick could have been seen as expendable after the free-agent signing of Michael Brantley. Also, with two Major League-ready outfield prospects (Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez), it would have made some sense to gauge his value. So far in 2019, Reddick has enjoyed one of his best offensive seasons and continued his usual steady play in right.

2) Wade Miley, LHP: He signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal as the Astros' lone external addition to a rotation that lost 500 innings when Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel became free agents and Lance McCullers Jr. underwent Tommy John surgery. Miley has continued the career rebirth that began with a 2.57 ERA over 16 starts for the Brewers in 2018. The Astros are 7-3 in his 10 starts, and he has pitched at least six innings six times with a solid 1.17 WHIP.

3) Robinson Chirinos, C: Luhnow dabbled in the trade market for then-Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto (who was traded to the Phillies) but was unwilling to offer the package of prospects Miami was seeking. Chirinos was signed to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million and has helped lengthen the lineup with an .885 OPS, which is a dramatic improvement over last season’s .673 OPS by Astros catchers.

4) Jake Marisnick, CF: Long one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders, Marisnick is off to a great offensive start that has earned him more playing time. His .914 OPS is 248 points higher than his .career .666 mark. Even if there’s regression, the totality of his game is one of the pleasant surprises of this season for Houston. Marisnick could be even more critical after Springer left Sunday’s game with lower back tightness.

5) Aledmys Diaz, utility: He was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason to help replace super utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins. Diaz became even more valuable when Jose Altuve went on the injured list. He’s hitting .421 in five starts at second and one at first since Altuve was injured.

6) Will Harris, RHP: He has rediscovered his All-Star form of 2016 with a straight cutter-curveball combination that has fashioned a 1.07 ERA and 1.020 WHIP through 18 appearances. Alongside Josh James and veteran Hector Rondon, Harris has formed a reliable bridge to get games into the hands of setup man Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna, who may be the best in the game.

7) Josh James, RHP: He made his MLB debut last September, and the Astros were so impressed that they kept him on the postseason roster. As Hinch said, “A 100-mph fastball gets your attention.” James made the club out of Spring Training and had a couple of rocky appearances. In his last six, James has pitched 10 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts. His three shutout innings at Fenway Park on Saturday probably saved what could have been a tough loss.