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The Astros weren't bad in 2016, they just weren't very good. They won 84 games and finished in third place, 11 games out, and also missed out on a wild card spot after a tough finish to the season. They entered 2017 with a lineup that was about as guaranteed to mash as any in baseball, but with questions up and down their entire rotation.
While all five starters aren't performing to the levels they need to yet -- looking at you, Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove -- the top of the rotation has managed to turn things around. And it has the Astros in first place in an otherwise mediocre AL West.
Dallas Keuchel is looking a lot more like the ace that won the Cy Young in 2015 than the pitcher who authored the disappointing followup campaign. It's yet to be seen how long that all lasts, but he seems healthy and effective, and that wasn't always the case last summer. Behind him, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton have produced above-average work to this point, and thanks to a bullpen that's succeeded in spite of a pretty nondescript Ken Giles season thus far, as a whole, the staff ranks ninth in ERA+ in spite of the litany of offseason questions.
Ninth might not sound that impressive, but combined with the league-leaders in OPS+, it's more than enough. Throw in that their closest competition is the Mariners, who spent April embarrassing themselves by blowing games and now have four of five starters on the DL, and everything looks better. Don't worry, we can roast the rest of the division, too. The Angels have Mike Trout, but as always, is there enough pitching? The Rangers have already lost seven one-run games after losing all of 11 in 2016, which, weird how you could see that coming. The A's are rebuilding and aren't in last, but they've also been outscored by 37 runs, so unless the Rangers get full karmic retribution for 2016's luck, that probably won't last for Oakland.
The short of it? This is all good news for the Astros, who might not even need the help if Keuchel keeps dealing and the lineup keeps mashing.
- One of the reasons the Astros' bullpen has been productive is James Hoyt, a 30-year-old rookie with a backstory you should read about.
- MLB is investigating the Dodgers for alleged discrimination in the termination of military veteran Nick Francona. Now, this needs some minor explaining: Francona isn't insisting he was discriminated against for his service, but for his treatment for PTSD.
- Francona has twice refused settlements from the Dodgers, as he believes the conversation is too important to have to wave it away with cash.
- As David Roth writes, to understand what's going on with Matt Harvey and the Mets, you need to understand the Mets.
- The Phillies' bullpen could use some help, be it strategic or personnel. The Good Phight has some sure-to-work ideas on the former.
- Won't someone on the Yankees help Aaron Judge move out of the hotel he currently lives in?
- 10 years ago this week, the Royals nearly destroyed an interest in baseball for an entire generation of Kansas City children.
- John Mozeliak tends to go with half-measures for the Cardinals, and Viva El Birdos tries to figure out if that's a problem.
- White Sox general manager Rick Hahn admitted there's a potential fit for his team and Cuban free agent Luis Robert.
- The Jonathan Lucroy trade isn't looking great for the Rangers given their current standing and how well the kids they traded to the Brewers are doing.
- Luckily, the sad state of the Rangers hasn't hampered the enthusiasm of this young, souvenir-snagging fan.
- Andrew Toles will undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL, so the Dodgers' outfield will likely continue to have a lot of Cody Bellinger in it.