If run differential is an indicator of underlying performance, then the Houston Astros qualify as nearly as big a surprise in the National League as the Baltimore Orioles are in the American League.
The Orioles’ plus-34 run differential ranks second in the AL behind the Rangers’ plus-47. The Astros are tied with the Washington Nationals for third in the NL at plus-14, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals (plus-62) and Atlanta Braves (plus-27).
What does it all mean?
Probably not much, considering that the season is not even 20 percent complete. The Astros are playing hard, and second baseman Jose Altuve, in particular, has been a revelation. But the team still figures to be an active seller at the deadline.
“Our objective is to aggregate as much talent as possible, as quickly as possible,” new general manager Jeff Luhnow told me last week, at the start of what became a 5-1 homestand against the New York Mets and Cardinals.
“If we have pieces on our club that are in demand by other clubs and we get enough future value for them to make up for the short-term loss, we’ll consider every opportunity.”
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, first baseman Carlos Lee, closer Brett Myers and right-handed setup reliever Brandon Lyon are the pieces most likely to generate discussions.
“I think late this summer there will be demand for some of our players,” Luhnow said. “We’ll have those conversations. But right now, we’re not actively pushing anything.
“Our veteran players are contributing. Wandy is pitching like a No. 1. Myers is pitching like an elite closer. Carlos has played a good first base. Lyon has been solid in the bullpen. We need those guys right now. I’m not in any rush to have any conversations about our veteran players.”
Luhnow was not exaggerating. Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 1.64 ERA. Myers is 7 for 7 in save opportunities with a 1.04 ERA. Lee is batting a relatively modest .289 with a .355 on-base percentage and .392 slugging average, and Lyon has a 2.89 ERA.
Contracts, though, are a problem. The Astros would need to include significant cash in deals to get a quality return.
Rodriguez is guaranteed $10 million this season, $13 million next season and a $2.5 million buyout in his $13 million option for 2014.
Myers is earning $11 million, with a $3 million buyout on his $10 million option. Lee is making $18.5 million and can block trades to 14 clubs. Lyon is earning $5.5 million.
— Ken Rosenthal