by LARRY FLEISHER
On Monday, the Astros received attention for moving relief pitcher Tony Sipp from right field to the mound and back to right field.
That's a nice way to get attention. The reality is that for the past month, the Astros have warranted positive attention for the way their rebuilding project seems to coming to fruition with the current results.
It's becoming apparent with each passing day that they won the Hunter Pence trade by getting Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. It's also apparent that they made the right trade in acquiring Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies and the right draft pick in George Springer.
Houston has won 12 of its last 16 games and is 18-10 since May 11. That is third in the majors since that time only behind Toronto and San Francisco and also is the most in the AL West. Also, the Astros have won eight of their last nine road games.
So now there's all sorts of positive tidbits on the front page of the team's game notes.
Among them are Jarred Cosart striking out 16 in his last 12 2/3 innings or that the bullpen has a 2.46 ERA and a .195 batting average against in the last 26 games.
Or perhaps the most significant cause to Houston's improvement is what George Springer has done in his first 47 games. He is the first Astro with 12 home runs in his first 47 games and since May 8, Springer has the second-most home runs and in May he was the AL rookie of the month for hitting 10 home runs.
Even more positive tidbits that can be highlighted, such as Dexter Fowler leading the AL with a .438 on-base percentage and a major-league leading 38 walks since April 18.
Another thing helping is the .749 OPS since May 1, which ranks seventh in the majors and a .845 OPS against lefties that ranks second in the majors.
The emergence of Dallas Keuchel, who leads the majors with a 3.75 ground ball to fly ratio (3.75), ranks sixth in ERA of 2.50 and 10th in opposing batting average of .226. Keuchel is the only remaining pitcher from the 2012 season and has a reasonable opportunity to reach 10 wins before the All-Star break.
We've known that the Astros farm system is good since last year when their four full-season affiliates finished a combined 94 games over .500. Perhaps we did not figure the results might start translating on the field now.
"It's fun," Cosart told reporters after Monday's 4-3 win in Arizona. "We've all won at some level, that's kind of what was the motto in spring training, whether it's college, high school, Little League, whatever, we all know what it's like to win, so why not get it going up here? Everyone's just feeding off each other. The atmosphere in the clubhouse is relaxed, but also like I said, confident.
"Some games it's all working together. It's really fun and we're excited to keep moving forward and see what we can do and try to make a push."
The Astros won their first two games and were 11-26 after May 10. In those 35 games, their run differential was 190-127 and they dropped 16 of 23 games decided by three runs or less.
Since then, they've won 18 of their last 28 games with a run differential of 127-102. The Astros have won nine of 12 by three runs or less but during their recent seven-game winning streak, they outscored opponents by a 39-12 margin.
This run have given the Astros a better winning percentage than the Red Sox, Rays and Mets. They're still 10 ½ out of first place and six out of the second wild card spot but the progress is evident.
When this run began, the Astros were batting .220 and their pitchers had a 4.90 ERA. Now those numbers are .239 and 4.19, still not great but evidence of improvement and the signs of a team that is coming on in future seasons if not the rest of the season.
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