On May 22, the Houston Astros were 17-28, and 10 games back of first place.
They had just lost their fourth straight game, after being swept by the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. They had an off-day before welcoming in the Baltimore Orioles for a three-game series. When Astros manager AJ Hinch posted the lineup card in that first game, there was a noticeable difference in the batting order. George Springer was now hitting leadoff. Since Hinch moved Springer to the leadoff spot, the 26-year-old is hitting .450 with a 1.361 OPS, 4 doubles, 4 home runs and 9 RBI in 9 games.
Of course, last night’s walk-off home run against the Diamondbacks represents one of those four home runs that Springer has hit as the Astros’ new leadoff man, which was the first walk-off home run he’s hit at any level ever. Since moving Springer to the leadoff spot, the Astros have won five straight games and eight of their last 10 to cut the Rangers’ division lead to 6.5 games. Still a rather large mountain to climb, but they’ve made up quite a bit of ground in less than two week’s time. Where they haven’t made up any ground, surprisingly, is on the Oakland A’s, who are also riding a five-game winning streak of their own. The two teams are tied for third place behind the Rangers and the Seattle Mariners, while only a half-game separate those two atop the division.
Springer entered play on Thursday with the highest WAR (3.2) among all positional players in the MLB. Also coming into today, Springer’s .904 OPS trails only Bryce Harper and Gregory Polanco for the highest OPS among major league right fielders. The Astros have a day game today, and he’s already got another hit, which gives him a six-game hitting streak.