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I’m referring to …
Well, bear with me while I tease you a little.
As I’ve done in the past (and as I’m sure I’ll do a slew of times in the future), I’ll confess my love for the Big Red Machine, the obsession of my youth while growing up in Cincinnati during the late 1960s and early ’70s. It was the greatest team in baseball history.
That’s my story, and, um, you know the rest. I’ll tell you what you probably don’t know about the 1970 version of that pre-Joe Morgan Reds team, which featured Baseball Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson leading his perennial core of superstars Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Those Reds had several wonderfully quirky claims to fame in my mind.
They trailed in the old National League West just once that season, and that happened on April 11 after Game No. 6 when they were a half-game out of first place. They never dropped below .500. During late July, Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas threw the only shutout against them (I’m still depressed over that one), and here’s another thing: Those Reds won 70 of their first 100 games.
I mean, that’s ridiculous. Nobody wins 70 percent of the time for that long, but we’re talking about the Big Red Machine.
After baseball started division play in 1969, the Elias Sports Bureau said the 1970 Reds were the only team to reach at least 70 victories in 100 games to start a season until the 1998 Yankees went 74-26. In case you’re wondering, that’s a winning percentage of 74. Three years later, the Mariners, who finished the 2001 season with a record-tying 116 victories, managed to win 72 percent of their first 100 games for a 72-28 record.
So we’re back to these Astros, and I’ll stop teasing. After they led baseball in nearly every hitting and pitching category worth mentioning along the way to an 11-game winning streak through early June, they were on pace to grab 117 victories. Then came their slump out of nowhere, but no worries. All they have to do to win 70 times by their 101st game this season is go 25-8 — or winning at a clip of 76 percent.
Can the Astros do it? OK, their pitching says “doubtful,” but their hitting says “maybe,” so the answer is … we’ll see.
As for that pitching, it’s wonderful when intact, but it’s banged up at the moment, especially since ace Dallas Keuchel (neck) is on the disabled list with Lance McCullers Jr. (back) and Charlie Morton (lat strain). When that trio returns, it will combine with Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove to lead a starting rotation that still ranks behind only the D-backs in the Major Leagues in ERA.
Not only that, but the Houston bullpen is deep enough to challenge those Reds, Yankees and Mariners of lore for “70-100” honors since closer Ken Giles has converted 16 of his 18 save attempts.
That said, offense gives the Astros the most hope here. For one, they’ve continued to rank among the top three teams in the Major Leagues in a bunch of offensive categories. Their .277 batting average entering Friday was tied at the top of baseball with the Yankees, and they were third overall in home runs with 103, third in slugging percentage at .469 and second in total bases. Such things happen when you have the likes of center fielder George Springer (18 homers, 43 RBIs) and second baseman Jose Altuve (.320 batting average) sparking a rising Murderer’s Row around Minute Maid Park.
Despite just three years in the Major Leagues, Carlos Correa is already one of baseball’s elite shortstops, and he’s impressive at the plate (.297 batting average, 12 homers and 42 RBIs). He’s three months shy of his 23rd birthday.
While Springer and Altuve are 27 to join Correa in Houston’s youth department, the Astros have accomplished veterans, too. There is their solid catching combination of 33-year-old Brian McCann and 30-year-old Evan Gattis, and I’m guessing 40-year-old Carlos Beltran has more than a few things to share in the Houston clubhouse after 10 years in the NL and 11 in the American League.
Then there is the leadership by example of 35-year-old outfielder Norichika Aoki, whose professional approach to hitting has helped turn what was a strikeout-prone team into one more efficient at contact hitting.
Houston’s schedule also cooperates. Between now and the All-Star break, the Astros will play three games against the Red Sox and three against the Yankees, and at the moment, those are the only teams on their schedule during that stretch with winning records.
I wish the Astros well in search of joining the “70-100” club. Still, you know what I’m about to type: They’re not the Big Red Machine.
Nobody is … or ever will be.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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