To say the Houston Astros have been bad since arriving in the American League West is an understatement of Texas-sized proportions.

In 2012, the year the Astros ditched the senior circuit, they lost 111 games. It was their third consecutive 100-loss season. 

Last year, Houston finished 70-92, enough to avoid the cellar but still 28 games off the pace.

Almost a month into the 2015 campaign, these Astros are suddenly looking like contenders.

Sure, it’s early. Baseball history is littered with scalding Aprils that evaporated in the heat of summer. But the standings don’t lie: After defeating the San Diego Padres 9-4 Monday night, Houston sits at 12-7, three games ahead of the defending division champion Los Angeles Angels.

Really, it’s not so shocking. The Astros are laden with young talent, a team on the rise. But many, myself included, didn’t think they’d rise so far so fast.

While there’s ample time to crash back to Earth, there are reasons to believe these ‘Stros are for real.

Let’s start with the pitching staff, which sported a 3.18 ERA entering play Monday, second-best in the AL.

The rotation is anchored by Dallas Keuchel, who is looking to build on a breakout 2014 season that saw him post a 2.93 ERA in 200 innings and toss an American League-leading five complete games.

Through four starts, the 27-year-old southpaw owns a 0.62 ERA and 0.828 WHIP. 

In his most recent outing on April 24 against the Oakland A’s, Keuchel twirled nine shutout innings but got a no-decision, with Houston ultimately prevailing 5-4 in the eleventh. After the game, Keuchel was still stewing on the two free passes he surrendered. 

“It was just real spotty command,” he said, per‘s Alex Espinoza.

So spotty command equals nine scoreless frames? Sleep tight, opposing batters. 

Speaking of batters, reigning AL batting champ Jose Altuve has picked up where he left off. Entering play Tuesday, the All-Star second baseman was hitting .325 with seven stolen bases.

Then there are the unexpected contributions that fuel every surprise run. Like, say, center fielder Jake Marisnick, a former third-round pick acquired from the Miami Marlins last July. 

Entering play Tuesday, Marisnick sported a robust .990 OPS and was leading the team with a .362 batting average.

“Just coming up here and starting to be consistent every day, I think it’ll start to show up more and more,” the 24-year-old told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle

Other Astros are still waiting to launch. Outfielder and 2011 first-round pick George Springer, who blasted 20 home runs in 78 games last year, is hitting .183 with 28 strikeouts in 71 at-bats. Overall, Houston is hitting .229 as a team.

The point is, there are already noticeable chinks in the armor. Pleasantly surprising as they’ve been, the Astros have flaws. On the other hand, who doesn’t?

No other squad in the AL West presently sits above .500. And from the underperforming Angels and Seattle Mariners to the perpetually reshuffling A’s to the injury-bitten Texas Rangers, everyone’s got question marks.

Does that make Houston the new favorites? Not yet. This hot start, though, has accelerated the Astros’ relevancy timeline and nudged them from pretender to contender.

Here’s an interesting note from‘s Buster Olney:

Two hundred sixty-three hitters had at least 300 plate appearances in 2014, and five of the hitters who appear poised to start in Houston’s lineup finished in the top 19 in the majors for highest strikeout percentage… The Astros will be the latest team to test the theory that all outs are created equal, and it really doesn’t matter whether you slap a ground ball to second base or strike out.

It’s a boom-or-bust offense, in other words, destined to either wow you or leave you sorely disappointed. There will be highs, there will be lows.

But to say this squad is intriguing is an understatement of Texas-sized proportions.


All statistics current as of April 27 and courtesy of


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