Astros' next wave learning on the job quickly
Correa receiving most attention, but Tucker, Springer, McCullers worthy of credit
DENVER -- The Houston Astros lost 416 games from 2011-14.
On Thursday afternoon, thanks to an 8-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, they became the first American League team to win 40 games this season.
Something doesn't compute.
Not that the Astros are complaining.
This wasn't a season in which the Astros were looking to shake up the AL West. They didn't go on an offseason shopping spree, looking for a quick fix.
Nope, they stayed the course. They kept their focus on continuing to build with a foundation of home-grown players. They talked about the future.
Now, however, about two weeks shy of the midpoint in their 162-game schedule, the Astros have to start wondering if the future might be now, and just what they might need to do to make sure they don't let this first-half opportunity turn into a missed chance in the second half.
But the Astros also know that they can't let this moment interrupt their process.
They aren't in a position to start to mortgage their future.
And, admitted manager A.J. Hinch, the way things are shaping up, the Astros could well have their cake and eat it, too. There are signs that the Astros could well continue to develop but win at the same time because the young players who are being counted on for the long term have shown no signs of being overmatched.
"We are fortunate we are able to continue to develop guys and do well," said Hinch. "You are talking about a [high] level of talent with [left fielder Preston] Tucker, [shortstop Carlos] Correa, [right fielder George] Springer, and [right-handed starter Lance] McCullers.
"They are getting incredibly valuable development time in the big leagues while winning games."
The hot topic is Correa, the 20-year-old shortstop who was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. Ten games into his big league career, he's hitting .349, having pushed his way into the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
He is not, however, on an island.
McCullers, 21, taken 40 players after Correa in 2012, goes into his start in Friday night's series opener at Seattle with a 3-1 record, a 2.00 ERA and only 10 walks to go with 40 strikeouts in 36 big league innings.
Springer, batting .277, has not only improved on the .231 average he posted in his rookie season, he has flourished in 23 games as a leadoff hitter. He's not only hitting .376 in those 23 games -- he has led off the first inning by going 10-for-21 (.476) with two walks and a .522 on-base percentage.
And then there is Tucker, who spent the first month of the season at Triple-A Fresno, got called up in early May and has steadily made his case to hit in the middle of the lineup. While driving in three of the Astros' first five runs on Thursday, thanks to a first-inning home run and an RBI double in the fifth, he raised his season average to .267.
"You need contributions from some unexpected guys, and Tucker fills that," said Hinch. "For him to be in the middle of our order in June is significant. We are so right-handed. To have a left-handed hitter to put into that part of the order makes a big difference."
The show Tucker put on in the opening month -- when he hit .320 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs across 25 games at Triple-A Fresno -- has turned into a big league reality.
"He was terrorizing Triple-A against left-handers and right-handers," said Hinch. "We needed a jolt for our offense, and he came up at the right time."
There is some veteran help on the way.
Veteran right-handed starter Scott Feldman, who hasn't pitched since May 26 due to a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, could be ready to rejoin the active roster by the All-Star break. That would provide a positive jolt to the rotation.
Shortstop Jed Lowrie is nearing a return from his torn right thumb ligament, although his role will be open for debate with the arrival of Correa. Lowrie, however, along with Feldman and reliever Luke Gregerson, do give the Astros a trio of players with postseason experience, and they could provide guidance to a young team down the stretch.
"You're always thinking you need a little boost of adrenaline," said Hinch. "It depends on how healthy we are. It depends on how many innings we get from the rotation."
There are no givens.
Still, the Astros are enjoying this first-half ride.
Who says it can't continue?
"Sometimes youth is unaware of big homes they are in, in a good way," Hinch said. "Experience helps, but talent does, too."
And the Astros do have talent.