Aces of Base

Houston started the year off with a bang. So did A's and Angels fans.

While the Louisville Slugger brand has over the years become eponymous with baseball, it has also become a part of the popular English vernacular. No bat is as recognizable by name. It might not be quite as ubiquitous in MLB circles as it once was (although the likes of Yelich and Bellinger still swear by it), but people still know it by name.

There are also those who might recognize it as a centerpiece of one of the more recognizable lyrics in Carrie Underwood’s 2006 smash hit “Before He Cheats“. And while it’s unclear if the Houston Astros players experienced any headlight-related car malfunctions while playing at RingCentral Coliseum over the weekend, the song itself did blare ominously over the PA system as the club came out to their starting lineup on Friday.

This little bit of hubris should come as absolutely no surprise to the Astros, who were spared the full brunt of fan dissatisfaction in 2020 by the presence of cardboard cut-outs and empty stands. Thus far in 2021, they’ve been subject to song-related trolling, garbage-can shot-put into centerfield, and an angry Shohei Ohtani. All of this, keep in mind, was over the course of one weekend.

But there’s one other thing the Astros did this weekend and into the early week, and it’s the thing that should be the most important to baseball fans and pundits: they won. Handily.

The Astros enter Wednesday with a 5-1 record, built on the back of an impressive 4-game sweep of the Oakland A’s over the weekend. The win was a masterclass in offensive baseball, as the Astros outscored the A’s 35-9, while scoring at least eight runs in all four games. The latter is a feat that has only been done three times in history prior to 2021 (2003 Yankees, 1995 Red Sox, 1978 Brewers).

The Astros did it with their big bats raking, too. The guys who struggle through career-low marks in the 2020 regular season, are back and batting big early on. Through Tuesday night:

José Altuve (25 AB) .320/.414/.360 .774 OPS, 121 OPS+, 55.6% HardHit, 13.8 BB% 9 R, 2 RBI
Alex Bregman (21 AB) .429/.478/.762 1.240 OPS, 243 OPS+, 69.2% HardHit, .500 BABIP 2 HR, 6 RBI
Carlos Correa (25 AB) .276/.354/.480 62.5% HardHit, .333 BABIP 1 HR, 3 RBI
Yordan Álvarez (26 AB) .308/.345/.538 .883 OPS, 145 OPS+ 1 HR, 7 RBI
Yuli Gurriel (22 AB) .409/.536/.591 1.127 OPS, 217 OPS+, 70.6% HardHit, 21.4 BB% 1 HR, 3 RBI

Add to that the continued strength of Kyle Tucker, and you have a top-six of the order that is as formidable as any in baseball. Over the weekend, they went up against the best arms that the defending division winners had to offer — and tore them apart. Whereas last season, Oakland allowed just 15 total runs in eight games against the Astros, they more than doubled that over the first four this season. And while certain pundits who may or may not be employed by this website predicted the A’s to be the best team in the AL West this year, the Astros have certainly given themselves a hefty leg up.

But hang on, baseball world. We hear you. Like a hungover frat boy woken up at 7 am by his alarm, you’re screaming “IT’S TOO EARLY!!” We get that. It is. Their bullpen has looked a little shaky. They are still a bit more shallow than one would like in the rotation. On Monday night, the combination of Joe Smith and Blake Taylor yielded four runs in an ugly 8th inning that saw them face all nine batters in the Angels order, and give up a 5-3 lead. But there are bound to be hiccups for this club, as it adjusts to life without its ace, its perennial closer of the last few seasons, and leadoff star George Springer. For this club to come out and put a hurting on the A’s, like they did in that first series, bears mention and recognition. As much as it pains the baseball world to admit, this is still a good team.

Of course, fans are going to have their fun this year. We can debate whether cheering a player getting plunked is the right message to send, although Dusty Baker’s comments after Monday’s game are unlikely to poke the tear ducts of many in the baseball community. What would be foolish to debate is the compete level and talent of this Astros club. In a comparatively weak division, in the lesser-than league, they have every chance to get right back to where they were in 2020 – which, need we remind you, was a game away from their third World Series berth in 4 seasons.

While Friday’s pre-game spinning of the aforementioned pop-country banger from Ms. Underwood may have been a clever wink, it was pre-game Saturday in which the A’s stadium crew pulled their master class. During the same pre-game introductions, stadium DJ’s threw it all the way back to 1993. In a not-so-surreptitious bit of nose-thumbing, they loudly blared the pop classic “The Sign” from Swedish group Ace of Base. You know the song. “I saw the sign…”

But if things with the 2021 Astros remain the way they are right now, the baseball world might be heeding the words from the next verse of that classic pop music brain-worm. The Astros might open up our eyes.

Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire

Daniel MacDonald

Daniel is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (2014), and has carried his love of baseball drama and storytelling across oceans and continents. He remembers exactly where he was sitting and what he was wearing when Kerry Wood struck out 20. You can find him talking baseball and music on Twitter @danthemacs

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