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Strong finish gives Astros winning record in May


Last updated 6/3/2014 at Noon

After the month of April was in the record books, one thing about the 2014 major league baseball season seemed very evident—the Houston Astros were headed for still another 100-loss season.

They weren’t hitting, the starting pitching was spotty and the relief pitching was as inconsistent as ever. And there was rumbling among some of the other general managers in the league that Houston’s general manager Jeff Luhnow wasn’t putting his most talented 25 players on the active roster just to secure those high draft picks that go to major league’s lousiest team.

That one may be a bit far-fetched, but Luhnow did an about-face the first week of May and promoted prized prospect George Springer to the Astros two months earlier than planned because he was tearing the cover off the baseball at Oklahoma City. Astros’ starting pitcher Scott Feldman, the elder statesman on the team’s youthful roster, had nothing but praise for Springer.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a rookie be this hot,” he was quoted in Friday’s Houston Chronicle. “He kind of reminds me of Josh Hamilton when he gets locked in like that and could just take over a game.”

Luhnow also started ridding the team of those klunker relievers, who threw gasoline on the fire instead of quelling them, with some hand-picked talent he knew from his regime with the St. Louis Cardinals. And slowly, but surely, a transformation occurred where Springer took over an outfield position on a regular basis and before long began driving in runs in key situations in addition to knocking the ball over the fence with uncanny regularity.

When the month of May ended, Springer had smashed 10 home runs, had 29 RBIs and was the first rookie to hit seven home runs in seven games since Rudy York of the Detroit Tigers did it from August 22-27, 1937, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 24-year-old Springer is only the seventh rookie in major league history to reach double digit home runs in the month of May. Mark McGwire (1987 Oakland Athletics) set the record with 15, Wally Berger (1930 Red Sox) hit 11 and four others—Jose Canseco Walt Dropo, Wally Joyner and Bob Speake hit 10. This upswing in play also produced some exciting come-from-behind victories and other wins where the team jumped out to an early lead.

The pitching rotation was registering quality starts regularly and the Astros finished the month of May with a seven-game winning streak to the delight of the optimistic fans that began to flock into Minute Maid Stadium. Starting left-hander Dallas Keuchel had a month of May to remember, winning four games and posting a 2.14 ERA, which was the lowest mark an Astros’ starter has had in the month since Roger Clemens’ 1.54 in May 2005.

Kuechel also was named the American League Player of the Week, the first time an Astros left-hander had been so honored since Bob Knepper 33 years ago.

Second baseman Jose Altuve strengthened his bid to become the American League’s All-Star second baseman if he continues to lead the league in hits, stolen bases and be among the top five in batting average. Altuve also leads the league in at-bats and plate appearances.

Altuve also could join Andre Dawson (Chicago Cubs, 1987) and Alex Rodriguez (Texas Rangers, 2003) as the only players to win a league Most Valuable Player award while playing on a last-place team.

During this offensive surge by Springer and Altuve, the Astros fashioned a seven game winning streak, which unfortunately came to an end Saturday, the last day of the month. The team hasn’t had a win streak this long since July 27-Aug. 3, 2010 and since May 11, the Astros are tied for the second-most wins across the major leagues. Their 15 wins this month are their most in May since recording 17 in 2008. Houston’s offense posted the fifth-best on-base percentage in the majors in May.

The bullpen had a 6.12 ERA on May 10—the worst in the majors by more than a full run. After Luhnow made a few changes, the bullpen did a turn-around with a dazzling 1.22 ERA since May 11, the best mark in the majors by more than half a run.

One of the big reasons for the change is the starting pitching, which has posted a 3.11 ERA since May 5, third best in the majors in that span.

“I think we played well enough to put together a pretty good stretch of wins,” commented manager Bo Porter, “mainly because our starting pitching has been great.”

KWICKIES…I’m certainly going to miss that booming voice of Glenn “Smoothie” Earle weekdays on radio station KOGT, who after more than half a century of media broadcasting both on television and the radio, hung up his golden microphone last Friday. Smoothie acquired that nickname long ago for both his debonair appearance and the way he handled the news business. He’s been my pal since the early 1970’s.

The Rice Owls have missed a shot at getting to the College World Series for the sixth straight year. The season-ending loss for 78-year-old Head Coach Wayne Graham’s Owls occurred on a wild pitch in the 10th the Houston Regionals. Rice also committed four errors in Sunday’s elimination game.

The Houston Astros will make the No. 1 pick in tomorrow’s (Thurs.) first round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft and will get three picks in the top 50 . The Astros selected shortstop Carlos Correa as the No. 1 pick in 2012 and Stanford pitcher Mark Appel No. 1 last year. Appel has had some bad luck so far this season, having an appendectomy before spring training, having an abbreviated spring training in Florida and then getting shelled Sunday night when he allowed 10 runs in 1 1/3 innings for High Class A Lancaster.

I still like California Chrome to win the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown at the 146th and will be televised by NBC Sports.Tyler Sanders is the third head football coach for Orange Community Christian in as many years but was very encouraged about the Lions upcoming season this fall after completing spring practice May 23. Sanders was pleased that 18 players came out for the six-man football spring practice. He comes to the Lions from Alvin Living Stones Christian, a district opponent of OCC. Sanders realizes the Lions have been successful by outscoring their opponents, but he plans on emphasizing defense for the upcoming 2014 season.

JUST BETWEEN US…The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat begin playing in the NBA finals tomorrow (Thurs.) at 8 p.m. in San Antonio. The Spurs are 3 inning that helped the Texas Aggies win 9-8 in running of the Belmont Stakes Saturday. The race is set to begin at 5:35 p.m. ½-point favorites for tomorrow’s first game. San Antonio’s All-Star point guard Tony Parker has been nursing a sore left ankle and may not be at full strength for the series. As much as I would like to see a Texas team take that world championship away from Miami, I must go with the Heat in six games, only because their president Pat Riley grew up five blocks from me in Schenectady, N.Y.


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