Sarah's Take: Vibrant Astros no longer sleepers

Sarah's Take: Vibrant Astros no longer sleepers

Before Spring Training, very few thought the Houston Astros would be competitive in the American League West this season. In 2013, they lost 111 games, and in '14, they lost 92 games.

Yet here we are on Aug. 26, and the Astros have a five-game lead over the Texas Rangers. Most baseball fans want to know how this team is doing it.

Houston has the 25th-highest payroll in the Major Leagues, so it has a young and enthusiastic team that entered the season with minimal expectations. The Astros are on track to go to the postseason, which would delight the city. Since 1962, when the Colt .45s came into existence, they have made only one World Series appearance. That came in 2005, when the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox.

After many subpar seasons in which Houston had no hope for the playoffs, the front office was able to trade away its high-priced players for young talent. For finishing toward the bottom of the Major Leagues, the Astros received many good Draft picks, enabling them to replenish their Minor League system. This year, their young players are beginning to come to the Major Leagues and are performing well.

The Astros have a new 41-year-old manager, A.J. Hinch. With a psychology degree from Stanford, Hinch has new ideas of how to motivate and build confidence in the young Astros, and the players have responded well to him.

The Astros are made for Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000. The Astrodome was where home runs went to die, but Minute Maid Park has smaller dimensions, enabling the ball to jump out. Houston leads the Majors in home runs.

Like most young teams, the Astros have difficulty making contact, as they have the second-most strikeouts in the Majors, a contributing factor to their 10th-ranked scoring offense. When their hitters get more experience, they should decrease their strikeouts.

The Astros don't have a one-dimensional offense. When they get on base, they know how to utilize their speed, as they have the third-most stolen bases in the Majors. Since nothing can take away speed, Houston isn't prone to many prolonged offensive slumps.

The good speed also helps the young Astros have good defense. They have only made 63 errors, tied for sixth fewest in the Majors.

Many baseball people believe Jose Altuve, who started at second base for the AL in the All-Star Game, is the best all-around second baseman in the game. However, most fans know little about him. Altuve's batting average is .309, and he has 33 stolen bases. His incredible speed enables him to have great range. Even though he has been an everyday player since 2012, he's still only 25.

The Astros' terrific defense has also helped them have great pitching. Dallas Keuchel, who was the starting pitcher for the AL All-Star team, leads their young rotation. Keuchel is 15-6 with a 2.28 ERA, the second-best mark in the league.

On Tuesday night, the Astros dominated the New York Yankees, winning, 15-1, at Yankee Stadium, before taking the series with a 6-2 win on Wednesday. With Tuesday's game broadcast to a national television audience, it's safe to say more fans are becoming aware of this great young team from Houston.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.