Dan's Dugout: Astros Rocket Into Stratosphere • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Astros Rocket Into Stratosphere

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MIAMI – Houston’s meteoric rise to the top of the baseball world parallels its reputation as the Rocket City.

The home of the Manned Spaceflight Center is also the home of a streaking team that seems to have fewer holes than a NASA booster.

In fact, the Astros could join the 1911 New York Giants as the only teams to have the most strikeouts by its pitchers as well as the fewest strikeouts by its hitters.

Adding to their assault on the record books, the Astros are leading both leagues in slugging percentage too. Finishing first in slugging but last in strikeouts by hitters is so rare that only the 1995 Cleveland Indians and 1948 New York Yankees did it previously.

No wonder Houston has a 10-game lead in the American League West.

The Houston Astros are dominating the American League lineup

The Houston Astros are dominating the American League lineup

Three of the top five hitters in the All-Star lineup wear Houston livery. And the team scouts and trades wisely, adding sluggers who make contact regularly in recent years.

Evan Gattis, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Josh Reddick came from other clubs while Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Yuli Gurriel are home-grown products.

The Astros are winning by following the game plan of the Kansas City Royals, who parlayed pitching, defense, speed, and contact into a world championship.

Manager A.J. Hinch wants his guys to put the ball into play. “I tell them contact is their friend,” he says. “We put pressure on the defense, move runners, and score runs.”

Their 19-1 win Sunday at hitter-friendly Rogers Centre in Toronto is a perfect example.

Springer, batting fourth for the AL All-Stars, actually leads off for Houston – which has received a club-record nine leadoff homers from him so far this summer.

Altuve, the former leadoff man whos a five-time All-Star at age 27,

Jose Altuve is a little guy with a big bat

Jose Altuve is a little guy with a big bat

often bats second or third these days, while McCann and Gattis are splitting time between catching and the DH job.

“We try to avoid empty at-bats,” Hinch says.

The rest of the baseball world is taking notice.

All-Star items:

Sale was the first American Leaguer to start consecutive All-Star games since Dave Stieb in 1983-84 . . .

Maddon previously managed an All-Star team in 2009, when he led the AL to a 4-3 win in St. Louis . . .

The only rookies in this year’s All-Star rosters are Aaron Judge (Yankees), winner of Monday’s Home Run Derby, and Cody Bellinger, outfielder-first baseman of the Los Angeles Dodgers . . .

Yankees rookie Aaron Judge won the 2017 Home Run Derby

Yankees rookie Aaron Judge won the 2017 Home Run Derby

Judge said booing from Miami fans did not distract him in the derby, which he also won as a collegian in 2012 . . .

Injuries sidelined three American League players picked for the 2017 game: Starlin Castro (Yankees), Dallas Keuchel (Astros), and Mike Trout (Angels) . . .

Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas has won the Final Vote fan balloting for an AL roster spot twice in the last three years . . .

Eight 2017 All-Stars have represented both leagues in the Midsummer Classic . . .

With Washington and Cleveland set to host the next two All-Star Games, speculation is centering on Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field as likely landing spots early in the next decade . . .

The two active leaders in All-Star selections, Miguel Cabrera (11) and Ichiro Suzuki (10), were not picked for this year’s game . . .

In his annual All-Star Town Hall with fans, Commissioner Rob Manfred revealed baseball held a recent Home Run Derby in London with former players. He also cited Montreal, Charlotte, and Mexico City as possible expansion cities – once baseball solves stadium issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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