How long can Houston stay in the race?

added 4/20/2015 by Greg Thurston

With six wins and six losses the Houston Astros sit alone atop the American League Western Division standings. Let that sink in for a minute. The Astros are in first place.

Sure, it's early in the season but Astros fans haven't experienced this feeling in quite a while. And the early returns would suggest that we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. There are several things about this 2015 team that seem to bode well for the long run.

First of all, these guys can play some serious defense. Every player on the diamond (with the possible exception of Jonathan Villar, but more on that later) has shown an ability to consistently make all of the plays. In the recently concluded 3-game series the Astros proved to be defensively superior to the defending A.L. West Champion Los Angeles Angels. While the of Anaheim's kicked the ball around and committed a total of four errors, the Astros were solid, making only one miscue that would result in an "E" appearing on the Minute Maid Park scoreboard. The 'Stros have committed only seven errors on the young season and two of those were made by the aforementioned Villar. The utility-man has a history of defensive struggles and may soon find himself sporting a new address, either in AAA or with another organization.

The Astros have also been getting outstanding performances from the entire pitching staff. Houston ranks in the top three in the American League in ERA for both starters and relievers. Mike Trout ripped a pair of homers Friday night to lead the Angels to victory but Astros pitchers shut down the young superstar over the next two games. In fact, the Angels could muster only three runs over the next 18 innings – all of those runs coming on fly balls that managed to find the first two rows of the Crawford boxes and probably would have been outs in any other ballpark.

Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh have picked up right where they left off last season. Keuchel is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts and continues to produce ground balls at a record pace. McHugh's winning streak, which dates back to last August, now stands at a franchise record-tying nine games. Newly acquired reliever Luke Gregerson has been phenomenal – as well as efficient. The closer has sandwiched four scoreless appearances in between his two saves, a 6-pitch effort on Opening Day and Sunday's 9-pitch outing.

The offense has yet to live up to its potential, but still ranks near the top of the American League in both home runs and stolen bases. Led by reigning batting champ Jose Altuve, the Astros combination of power and speed should provide a foundation for continued success. Despite a slow start from some of the big boppers in the middle of the order, the team has played well enough in other facets of the game to stay competitive.

Things have gone pretty well so far, but the Astros have yet to leave the state of Texas. The true test begins Monday night as the club travels to Seattle to open up a 9-game road trip that includes stops in Oakland and San Diego.

The Mariners could be the best team in the division. The Athletics already took two of three from the Astros at MMP, and the new-look Padres are playing an exciting brand of baseball in the early going. The Astros will have to continue to play good baseball in order to have a shot at a successful road trip. The club has been fun to watch so far, so expect to see a few bleary-eyed co-workers at the office this week. I know I'll be staying up late to catch the action.