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MLB

Are the Houston Astros the best team in major league baseball?

The Houston Astros are quietly, stealthily, grinding their way toward the postseason, and they have the numbers and the nous to win MLB’s top prize

Update:
The Houston Astros are quietly, stealthily, grinding their way toward the postseason, and they have the numbers and the nous to win MLB's top prize
Alika JennerAFP

I am a Texas Rangers fan. After a childhood spent watching my dad’s favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, when I was 16 years old, the Texas Rangers did something that won my eternal affection. They signed Nolan Ryan. I was hooked. The fact that they got him from Houston was a kind of in-state Texas bonus.

Along with all the other Ranger blue fans, who still pine over the loss of A-Rod, Pudge, Sosa, Teixeira, and most recently IKF and Gallo, I hold out hope that Texas will one day rebuild and get back into World Series contention. So believe me when I say to you that this next statement gives me no joy of any kind.

The Houston Astros are the best baseball team in Major League Baseball.

There, I said it. It makes me a little sick, not because of the lame “oh, they cheated five years ago” nonsense that Yankee fans still trot out, like some stale fruitcake, when the Astros are mentioned, but because no matter how you look at the situation, it is an incontrovertibly true statement of fact.

The incredible thing about Houston is that they are doing what they do with almost no press noise at all. And let’s be clear about what exactly it is that they do. They systematically dismantle the best baseball teams in the country.

The Yankees have the best record in MLB, but they have lost five of their seven games against the Astros this season. In fact, Houston won 43 of the 45 innings that the two teams have played in 2022, and the two games that they lost? They lost them on the last at-bat.

The limited press coverage that the Astros receive tends to revolve around the insane batting of Yordan Álvarez. He is the top offensive weapon in baseball, leading MLB in both OPS and slugging. But here is the thing that nobody is talking about. And it is the same thing that nobody talked about last season, too. Houston are outstanding, based in no small measure on their pitching.

For a team who are known for being able to produce runs almost at will, the Astros are pretty average in the runs scored department, putting up 418 runs so far this season, the same number as the Texas Rangers. Where the Astros stand apart from the crowd is on the mound.

Cristian Javier spearheaded a no-hitter against the Yankees back in June, just the eighth time ever that the pinstripes have been no-hit and the first time in nearly two decades. Incidentally, the last team to do it? Houston, back in 2003.

Justin Verlander, at 39 years old, is having a career-high season. He returned from Tommy John surgery to a one-year, $25 million deal that was loaded down with question marks, and it is no exaggeration to say that he has lit up the baseball world.

Lit. It. Up.

The guy is throwing fireballs, with a 1.89 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP, he is almost unhittable.

Rafael Montero has a 1.85 ERA and Framber Valdez is turning into a ground-ball specialist, as a starter with a 2.66 ERA over 115 innings pitched. But the blazer on the team, the real jaw-dropper, is Ryne Stanek. He has an ERA of 0.55. Yes, that is a zero. He is just bowling the batters out, strike after strike.

Without all of the razzmatazz that the Dodgers rotation brings, or the sleight-of-hand focus on the Mets acquisition of Hall-of-Fame shoe-in Scherzer, Houston is quietly working their way toward October.

Nobody will speak about them, giving all of their media space to the Yankees and Dodgers, asking for the umpteenth time if the Jays or Sox can make the playoffs, wondering if Atlanta or Milwaukee will be able to match their 2021 runs.

And then, with no fanfare, the Astros will stroll into the post season and send everyone home.