George Springer smiled when asked if he thought his Houston Astros would be running away with the American League West at this point in the season.
“We knew we had a good team coming out of spring training,” the All-Star center fielder said earlier this week during the All-Star Game festivities in Miami. “I don’t know if anyone could realistically expect us to have the record we have. We’ll take it, though, that’s for sure.”
The Astros’ 61-30 record is the best in the AL West, and they hold a commanding 15.5-game lead over the two-time defending division champion Texas Rangers.
Houston has built its big advantage on the strength of a fearsome offense that is averaging a major league-best 5.92 runs a game. The top three in the Astros’ batting order — Springer, second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa — all made the AL All-Star team.
“Those three play probably the biggest part in who we are,” Astros ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel said. “They are competitive with each other. Correa wants to be the best. But Altuve is the best right now, and closing in is Springer. It’s a healthy competition, and it’s a joy to watch. When my career is over, I can say I played with all three.”
The Astros have scored double-digit runs in 15 games this season and scored at least eight runs in an inning on four occasions.
“It’s kind of scary, because you don’t really have a break in the lineup,” Keuchel said. “It’s kind of an embarrassment of riches right now, but it took us a while to get here.”
Indeed, the Astros went through hard times at the beginning of their rebuilding process, going 56-106 in 2011, 55-107 in 2012 and 51-111 in 2013. They reached the postseason in 2015, beating the New York Yankees in the wild-card games before losing to the Kansas City Royals in an ALDS, but missed the playoffs last season.
A postseason berth seems certain in 2017. However, the Astros want more than that.
The franchise has been to the World Series just once since its inception in 1962, getting swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. Reaching the Fall Classic and winning it this year would be exceptionally meaningful to the four players remaining from the 2013 team — Keuchel, Altuve, right-hander Brad Peacock and utility player Marwin Gonzalez.
“We are very motivated,” Altuve said. “We know how far we have come in four years. And we know where we want to go, and that’s the World Series. We feel we have the team that can win it.”
FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that Pablo Sandoval could return to the San Francisco Giants once he clears waivers after being designated for assignment on Friday by the Boston Red Sox.
“If he’s smart, he’ll sign with the Giants, because I think that’s the only way he can save his career at this point,” an executive from an AL team said. “Even at the minimum (salary), I don’t think a lot of teams would take him at this point, because you can’t expect to get anything out of him. The Giants are the one team that knows him. Maybe they can rekindle the magic.”
Sandoval signed a five-year, $95-million contract with the Red Sox as a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason. However, he played in just 161 games over three seasons, hitting .237/.286/.360 with 14 home runs.
He spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Giants, from 2008-14, and batted .294/.346/.465 with 106 home runs in 869 games.
Sandoval had his ups and down with the Giants, primarily fighting a constant battle with his weight. However, he also helped them win three World Series and was the MVP in 2012 when they beat the Detroit Tigers.
“I think Boch is the one manager — maybe the only one — who can connect with him,” the executive said, referring to the Giants’ Bruce Bochy.
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder/first baseman Daniel Nava is an under-the-radar name who could end up being dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
The 34-year-old switch-hitter is batting .297/.389/.406 with three home runs in 60 games. He also has postseason experience, including playing for the World Series champion Red Sox in 2013.
“I think he could be a very valuable bench player for a contender down the stretch,” a scout from a National League team. “He’s a switch-hitter who puts the bat on the ball, gets on base and plays a decent outfield. He’s been in big situations, and he can get you a hit in the clutch.”
This week’s Series of the Week has the Washington Nationals visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game set from Friday-Sunday at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Max Scherzer is scheduled to start the opener for the Nationals against left-hander Patrick Corbin on Friday night. On Saturday night, Tanner Roark squares off with Zack Godley. A pair of All-Stars, Stephen Strasburg and lefty Robbie Ray, face off on Sunday afternoon.
The Nationals took two of three from the Diamondbacks from May 2-4 at Washington, as first Ryan Zimmerman went 5-for-11 (.455) with two doubles. The Nationals are 25-11 against the Diamondbacks since the start of the 2012 season.
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