The MLB All-Star break is finally here, which marks the halfway point of the regular season. For the majority of the 2022 season, the New York Yankees have been in control of the AL East and the American League as a whole.
However, with some of the Yankees’ recent irregular struggles, the Houston Astros are fighting to plant their flag on top of the American League standings in the second half of the season and have +200 odds to do so.
A Top-Tier Pitching Staff
If you ever wondered if the Fountain of Youth existed, look no further than Justin Verlander. After missing the entire 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery, Verlander has been nothing short of spectacular in 2022. At 39 years old, Verlander had arguably the best first half of a season of his career.
So far, Verlander has a 1.89 ERA (third in MLB), 12 wins (leads MLB) and a 0.88 WHIP (third in MLB). He’s been one of the biggest reasons that the Astros’ starting pitching staff has the second-lowest ERA (2.98) in the MLB, but Verlnader has had some key assistance from Framber Valdez.
In Valdez’s fifth season in the MLB and with the Astros, he’s posting a career-high 2.66 ERA in 115 innings pitched, while also pitching two complete games which leads the MLB. As a whole, the pitching staff has been spectacular this season, with five of their starters having a sub-3.65 ERA.
It’s not just the Astros’ starters that have been stellar, but their relief pitching as well. Their bullpen has posted the best ERA in the MLB at 2.66 and has the third-best WHIP at 1.13.
Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek and Seth Martinez have been the most effective bullpen arms so far, all posting an ERA under 1.93 and striking out a combined 100 batters in 94.2 innings of work. Ryan Pressly hasn’t had an All-Star season, but he’s still posting a 2.89 ERA in 28 innings, so he’s still been one of their most valuable bullpen arms.
Yordan’s Breakout Party
The Astros’ offense hasn’t lit it up like it has in the past few years, but Yordan Álvarez has been sensational at the plate. Álvarez is 12th in batting average (.306), fourth in homers (26), 11th in RBIs (60), first in OPS (1.058) and sixth in WAR (4.2). With the departure of George Springer and Carlos Correa in the past two years, Álvarez has stepped in and has been the Astros’ best option at the plate.
Right fielder Kyle Tucker has also been a huge boost to the Astros’ offense since a few of the Astros’ veteran players are having underwhelming seasons offensively. Tucker is only batting .252, but he has driven in 62 runs, stolen 15 bases and has recorded 18 home runs on 76 hits.
The Astros have looked really good this year and if some of their veterans can find their stride again, that will unlock another level to this Astros offense. With the Astros trailing the Yankees by 4.5 games and owning the 24th hardest schedule remaining, if the offense starts clicking on all cylinders, the Astros will have a great shot at planting their flag at the top of the American League standings.