CHICAGO -- Sometimes a manager can't help himself."I've learned I bunt the least of anybody,'' A.J. Hinch said, in classic deadpan fashion. "I've also learned we score the most runs. I'm not sure if that's connected or not.''Forgive his mirth.Hinch knows that these haven't been the best of times for
CHICAGO -- Sometimes a manager can't help himself.
"I've learned I bunt the least of anybody,'' A.J. Hinch said, in classic deadpan fashion. "I've also learned we score the most runs. I'm not sure if that's connected or not.''
Forgive his mirth.
Hinch knows that these haven't been the best of times for his Astros, but he also knows they're hovering around 30 games over .500 and haven't led the American League West by fewer than 10 games since May.
The Astros have only seven sacrifices so far, and somehow are on pace to score almost 950 runs.
Houston's pitching problems have no doubt added to hope for the Red Sox, Indians and other contenders. But outscoring a lineup as deep as the Astros isn't going to be easy for anyone, even if there's no return to form for Dallas Keuchel or health for Lance McCullers
Not even injuries to top players have slowed Houston's run production.
George Springer (strained left quad) returned from a stint on the disabled list on Tuesday and Carlos Correa (torn ligament, left thumb) is expected to start swinging a bat again soon. But the two All-Stars haven't played in a game together since July 17, and yet the Astros entered Thursday's game averaging 5.2 runs per game since then.
Credit AL MVP Award candidate Jose Altuve but also a front office that has kept adding hitters in every way imaginable, while also steadfastly refusing to trade the ones it has for pitching.
We'll find out soon enough if that was a wise strategy. But here's a fact: Nobody is going to want to face Houston in the postseason.
From top to bottom, the Astros have the most dangerous lineup in the Major Leagues, as Hinch points out. There are only 86 Major League hitters who are maintaining an .800+ OPS over at least 300 plate appearances. They have seven of those, and nobody else has more than five. Imagine them going head-to-head with the Red Sox, who barely have one (Mookie Betts, with an .801 OPS).
Not that the Astros were going to be threatened when Correa and Springer hit the DL within a week of each other, but they maintained their consistently high floor, with no losing streaks longer than three games.
"At one point, we had the most productive 7, 8, 9 hitters in baseball, and we've continued that,'' Hinch said. "Those guys are having to hit more in the middle of the order because of injuries, but -- and I've said this a lot -- we've got about 12 everyday players. When we're fully healthy, we have a ton of guys who can play and are performing at a level that's really been incredible.''
Pushing to deliver a batting title with his OPS above 1.000, the 5-foot-6 Altuve stands tallest in the Astros' lineup. Houston currently has three other hitters with an OPS above .950. Can you name them?
Springer and Correa are easy, but who is the third? How about switch-hitting utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who has 20 home runs in this breakout season?
Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick and Cuban import Yuli Gurriel all have an OPS of at least .800. Ditto DH-catcher Evan Gattis, who had an .819 OPS in 264 plate appearances when he went on the disabled list with concussion symptoms.
"Our depth has been challenged because of the injuries, but our offensive morale has never wavered,'' Hinch said. "These guys think they can hit. They come out ready to hit and more times than not they have.''
Like Joe Maddon with the Cubs a year ago, Hinch is able to move his players all over the field. Bregman, who played shortstop at LSU, became a third baseman when he joined the Astros but shifted back to short when Correa was injured. Gurriel played third throughout a decorated career in Cuba, but first base was his best fit for Houston, at least until Correa was hurt.
Gonzalez, a Rule 5 Draft pickup from the Cubs after the 2011 season, has started games in left field and every position in the infield. He threw a strike to the plate to cut down a runner on Tuesday night against the White Sox.
Hinch says his versatile roster allows him to carry an extra pitcher or two, which could come in handy in October.
"We carry 13 [pitchers] because when we're healthy, we have four shortstops and our guys can go all over the field,'' he said. "Marwin plays seven positions. All my outfielders play all around. Now that George played left field in the All-Star Game, I know he can play left field.''
Who knows what you'll see from the Astros in October? Crazy things happen. Maybe even Hinch giving away an out with a sacrifice bunt.
But don't bet on it.
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.