While the San Francisco Giants have the best record in MLB, the Houston Astros have been, without a doubt, the best team in the league since Opening Day.
As of Friday afternoon, the Giants lead MLB with a 48-26 record, but the Astros’ 47-28 is the second-best in the league.
Run Differential Heavily Favors The Astros
Both teams are white hot: the Giants have won eight of their last 10, while the Astros are 10-0 in their last 10.
However, there is a significant stat that tells us the Astros have been even better than the rock-solid Giants: run differential.
The Astros have a +144 run differential, and the Giants are at +101.
They are the first and second-ranked teams in the stat, and they are head and shoulder above the rest: the Los Angeles Dodgers (+92), the Chicago White Sox (+86) and the San Diego Padres (+79).
The fact that the Astros have been able to establish such a big difference over the second-ranked team is astonishing.
And it’s evidence that they are the team to beat right now and have been since Opening Day.
Houston has a formidable offense and surprisingly good pitching.
A Rock-Solid, Deep Lineup
The Astros’ lineup is every manager’s dream.
Aside for catcher Martin Maldonado (whose place in the lineup is more than justified because of what he brings defensively and in game-calling), there are no weak links in the unit.
Yuli Gurriel has been playing admirably at first base and is among the hottest hitters in Houston’s lineup.
He has a .333/.396/.524 line with 14 home runs so far in 2021, and is third in Wins Above Replacement in the team with 2.3.
Jose Altuve has had quite the resurgence this year after a down 2020.
The second baseman, former AL MVP, is hitting .295/.370/.521 with 17 home runs and a couple of steals.
¡Walk-Off GRAND SLAM!🔥
¡José Altuve los dejó en el terreno con este BATAZO! pic.twitter.com/kI70mYg4wE
— MLB Venezuela (@MLBVenezuela) June 16, 2021
He is second in WAR with 2.9.
Care to guess who leads Houston in WAR?
Carlos Correa, with 3.6 and a fantastic .305/.400/.534 line.
Other hitters have stepped up in Alex Bregman’s absence.
The Pitching Is Not Far Behind
The offense is excellent, but so is Houston’s pitching.
Jake Odorizzi, who spent a portion of the MLB campaign injured, is getting there: he currently has a 4.75 ERA, but he has been pitching a lot better recently and other run-prevention metrics say he has been fine (3.88 Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, for example).
Perhaps Houston can be able to improve their bullpen a bit after Ryan Pressly at the trade deadline, but even if things stand how they currently are, they are the team to beat in the American League and perhaps all of baseball.
I tried to tell people about the Houston Astros young pitching that had a chance to gain some experience last season.
Justin Verlander still out. Alex Bregman injured early. George Springer in Toronto.
— Nathan Hiatt (@NATE_HIATT) June 25, 2021
Few people expected Houston to be right up there with the very best, but that has been the case.