The Houston Astros were the favorites to win the AL West at the start of the season. However, a 17-28 start had the Astros in last place in the division, with only the Minnesota Twins having a worse record (11-32).
Monday when Houston travels to Southern California to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (10 ET on ESPN), where the country will see one of the hottest teams in baseball. Since that start, Houston is 22-9, tied with the San Francisco Giants for the second-best mark in the majors. Only the Texas Rangers (24-8) are better.
George Springer leads revival
One reason for the Astros surge has been the play of George Springer, who was moved to the leadoff spot on May 24.
While the Astros have had no shortage of home runs this season (97, ninth in MLB entering Monday’s action), they struggled to get runners on base leading up to those home runs early in the season.
With Springer in the leadoff spot, the Astros have more multi-run home runs (19) as they did before, with José Altuve leading off (17), despite playing 14 fewer games.
Collin McHugh will toe the rubber for Houston. McHugh has struggled early, sporting an 8.79 ERA in the first inning this season, allowing 14 earned runs in 15 starts.
That ranks him 93rd out of 99 qualified starting pitchers. In all other innings he has a 3.86 ERA.
For the Angels, Matt Shoemaker will take the mound for the 15th time this season.
This year, Shoemaker is relying on his fastball less (47 percent, compared to 57 percent last year), instead going with his splitter and slider even more.
This is probably for a reason as opponents are batting .326 and slugging .532 against his fastball this season. During his first three major league seasons opponents hit .278 with a .442 slugging percentage against his fastball.
• The Astros are relying less on home runs this season, scoring 43.6 percent of their runs via the long ball. Last year, they scored 47.6 percent of their runs on home runs.
• The Angels have grounded into 69 double plays this season, tied for second-most in the majors behind the Blue Jays (78).z
• Albert Pujols has hit 52 career home runs against Houston, most among all players (Hank Aaron is next with 46 career home runs vs the Astros).