As baseball season slowly but surely progresses through the hectic basketball and hockey postseasons and now the World Cup in Russia, the Astros have defended their title nicely and own the most victories in the Majors with 48 wins as of June 18.
Despite the impressive showing and 23 wins above the .500 mark, Houston holds a slim lead in the American League West over one of the game’s top surprises, the Seattle Mariners. In the wake of the embarrassing performance enhancing drug suspension of Robinson Cano, Seattle has stayed the course and produced their most dominant start in 15 years.
One of the top leaders to step up in Cano’s absence has been shortstop Jean Segura. He is well on his way to an All-Star season with a league-leading average of .340 to accompany his 44 runs batted in. Felix Hernandez, who has been one of the best pitchers in the American League in years past, is having a down year on the mound despite the team’s successes. Instead, starters James Paxton, Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc have filled the role along with an impressive set of arms in the bullpen.
The Astros have been what the world expected for the most part after their championship run last fall. Ever since he put on the orange and blue, Justin Verlander has been responsible for one of the most impressive runs of any Major League pitcher in our time. The Astros do not become World Champs in 2017 without him, and his ERA sits at 1.61 this year with a record of 9-2. Offseason acquisition Gerrit Cole has overwhelmed his opponents from the bump as well with a record of 8-1 and a 2.40 ERA.
Offensively, it has been Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa leading the charge once again for Houston. Altuve boasts a team-best batting average of .337 and Gurriel is above the .300 mark as well. Correa is second on the team in long balls and leads in RBIs with 47.
Seattle is off to a start to remember, but there is still almost 100 games to play and plenty of time for the Astros to pull ahead with one of the more complete rosters I have ever seen in baseball. Still, the Mariners should have a good chance to compete for one of the two wildcard spots in the American League. This is no easy task, considering just how fierce the AL is once again this year.
This is also further evidence that the wildcard round in the postseason must be extended to at least a best two-out-of-three series opposed to the current single elimination format. As it currently stands, the Astros, Mariners, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are the top four squads in the AL by record (not in that order). Since the Astros and Mariners both inhabit the west and the Red Sox and Yankees the east, it means two of those four teams can only qualify for October via the wildcard and will have to endure the single elimination route.
This seems especially unfair when you look at the standings in the American League Central Division, where the Cleveland Indians lead with an unspectacular record of 37-33. There is nothing that can be done about this; weaker divisions are just part of sports. But they can make the wildcard teams feel like they have a better chance by making the first round a series. I understand this takes away some of the excitement, but this is not football. How one can justify playing 162 games in the regular season then immediately present a win-or-go-home scenario? This usually means that the team with the hottest ace on the bump will advance, not necessarily the better overall squad.