The Astros, the Royals and different ways to win
During a 20-batter stretch in Sunday's victory at Detroit, every hitter for the Houston Astros either reached base or struck out.
Business as usual for the surprising leaders of the AL West.
The Astros beat the Tigers 10-8 in that game, striking out 15 times but also hitting a pair of home runs and rallying from a four-run deficit in the sixth inning. Houston now leads its division by 6 1/2 games and has the second-best record in the American League - but to say the Astros have an unusual offense would be an understatement.
Houston leads the major leagues in home runs, while ranking 29th in batting average. The Astros have struck out more than any other American League team, yet they're third in the AL in runs.
"I think we actually expected a little bit of that, just given the back of the baseball cards of the guys that we have," manager A.J. Hinch said during the series in Detroit. "We have a lot of guys that have home runs on their resumes. We've got guys that have some strikeouts, maybe some low batting averages. So it's played out that way - it's gone a little bit extreme I think."
No kidding. Evan Gattis hit his ninth homer of the year Sunday, but his three-hit day only raised his average to .201. Luis Valbuena is hitting .199 with 10 homers. Chris Carter is hitting .170 but has gone deep seven times.
This formula is working so far, and it's quite a stylistic contrast to the one AL team with a better record than Houston: the Kansas City Royals.
Kansas City has hit the second-fewest homers in the AL. That's not a huge change from last season, but the Royals have improved offensively.
They may not hit many home runs, but they've hit plenty of doubles and triples - and the Royals remain the most strikeout-averse offensive team in baseball. Kansas City has scored even more runs than Houston this year, and the Royals lead the AL Central by three games.
The Royals were perhaps the game's most fascinating story in 2014, and maybe this year that honor will belong to the Astros. Both teams embody the idea that if enough guys cross the plate, it doesn't matter how they get there.
Here are a few other developments from around baseball:
You'd be hard-pressed to find two more different hitters than the current batting leaders in the AL and NL. Prince Fielder of Texas is hitting .358, having bounced back nicely from a 2014 season ruined by injury. Fielder has hit over .300 only once in his career, so a batting title still seems far-fetched, but he's also hit eight home runs and has played in every one of his team's 44 games. Pencil him in as a clear comeback player of the year candidate.
The NL batting leader, meanwhile, is Dee Gordon, Miami's 172-pound second baseman. Gordon has four home runs in his entire career.
It's been a good year for aging power hitters with massive contracts who had been widely written off before the season began. First, Alex Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the career home run list, and now Ryan Howard has emerged as probably the best hitter on a rebuilding Philadelphia team. Howard already has 10 home runs on the season.
Miami and Arizona recently demoted closers Steve Cishek and Addison Reed. A.J. Ramos is now first in line for saves for the Marlins, and Brad Ziegler seems to be filling that role for the Diamondbacks. They've both pitched well this year, but expectations should remain mild. The Marlins in particular have not played well enough to give anyone many save opportunities lately.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Jacob deGrom, Mets, struck out 11 in eight one-hit innings to lead New York to a 5-0 win over St. Louis on Thursday. His outing was a bright spot for the Mets, who have now dropped 10 of their last 14.