What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale tells us what he’s hearing regarding which MLB players will take home some hardware at the end of the season.
USA TODAYHOUSTON – What the Houston Astros are doing is almost obscene, becoming more ridiculous by the day.One day, they score 21 runs with a franchise-record 11 doubles.The next, it’s 15 runs with a franchise-tying seven home runs.“My buddy texted me a while ago and said, ‘Murderers’ Row. Bull. … It’s Murderers’ Mile,’ ” Astros starter Wade Miley told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s unbelievable every single night.”If the Astros’ pitching staff isn’t terrifying enough with co-Cy Young favorites Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke and 13-game winner Miley, try to somehow beat them when they’re bludgeoning you to death offensively.The Astros became the first team in 66 years, and only the fourth in history, to win consecutive games by at least 15 runs with their 21-1 blowout Sunday over the Seattle Mariners, followed by the 15-0 clobbering Monday night over the Oakland Athletics.They are the only team in history to score at least 36 runs and permit one run or less in consecutive games, not to mention out-hitting their opponents, 39-4.The @astros have won their last two games 21-1 and 15-0.They are the first team in MLB history to score 36 runs and allow 1 or fewer in a 2-game span.#TakeItBack— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) September 10, 2019It’s a freak show night after night.“It’s really special,” said Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos, who hit two of the Astros’ seven home runs Monday. “When you see a team putting up that many runs in back-to-back games, it says a lot about the approach, about the talent we have here on this team.’’The Astros, 95-50, have silly talent. They have produced the finest record after 145 games in franchise history and outscored the opposition by a staggering 255 runs this season, the most in Major League Baseball.They will soon become only the sixth team in history to win 100 or more games in three consecutive seasons, last accomplished by the New York Yankees in 2002-2004.And they seem to just be getting started.Oh, and they did this against Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, who had gone 21 consecutive starts without a loss, matching Lefty Grove’s team record set in 1931 on Monday, after clobbering former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez on Sunday.“I got to see some really incredible performances,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We were just incredibly explosive.”Yes, try 2,801 feet worth of home runs, including rookie Yordan Alvarez’s monster shot that landed in Row 1, Section 337. He’s the first Astros player to hit a ball into the third deck at Minute Maid Park.ROUT: Astros score 36 runs in back-to-back gamesTALENT OVERLOAD: ‘A blessing and a curse’ for AstrosIt was somehow measured at only 416 feet. Astros players openly mocked the distance, and Miley even threatened to take out a tape measure before his start Tuesday to calculate the distance himself.Alvarez, who wasn’t even called up to the big leagues until June 9, hit two more home runs Monday, giving him a franchise-rookie record 24 homers. He has 72 RBI, matching Ted Williams for the second-most through a player’s first 71 games, trailing only Walt Dropo in 1949-50. He has 46 extra-base hits; only Joe DiMaggio had more in his first 71 games.My God, he has a 1.082 OPS, which would be the highest by a rookie in baseball history, eclipsing Shoeless Joe Jackson’s record of 1.058 in 1911.“To be, what, 22 and be that good?” Chirinos said, shaking his head. “When you see a kid that young and have the approach he has, it’s just special.”Really, it’s hard for even Alvarez, who defected from Cuba in 2016, and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers before being traded two months later to the Astros for reliever Josh Fields.“I expected to do well,” he said, “but to do this well with so many home runs, it has surprised me a little bit.”Well, the Astros can say the same. They knew they were going to be good, but perhaps not historically good. They have a 10½-game lead in the AL West and a magic number of eight to win the AL West. They have won their most home games in club history (56), going 28-2 alone against the AL West at Minute Maid Park this season. They have to win nine of their final 17 games to set the team record for victories in a season.“This is so much fun. We believe every night that we have a chance to put together a great offensive performance like we have been,” said Bregman, who is having the finest season by any American League player not named Mike Trout.He has 35 homers, 103 RBI, 111 runs and a 1.002 OPS for the year, and since Aug. 1, he’s hitting .414 with a .497 on-base percentage, .781 slugging percentage, with nine homers, 18 doubles and 40 RBI.The Astros have hit 248 homers this season, one shy of the franchise record. Despite the home run prowess, they have the highest walk rate in baseball (9.9%) and easily the lowest strikeout rate (18.3%), while leading the major leagues in batting average (.276) and on-base percentage (.353).“It’s just awesome,” said leadoff hitter George Springer, who has 31 homers and 82 RBI, just three homers and RBI shy of his career high. “On a daily basis, it really doesn’t matter who’s in there. Guys just pass the baton to the next guy.”The real testament to the Astros’ prowess will be whether they are the last team standing in October, Greinke said, but for those who played on the Astros’ 2017 World Series team, this is looming as the best team they’ve been part of during their glorious run.“Right now, it’s the best team I’ve been on,” Springer said, “but there’s a lot more for us to do, a lot more for us to accomplish.“When the season is over, then we can look back and let everybody decide.”Follow Nightengale on Twitter at @BnightengaleAutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide