Astros look unstoppable, Kris Bryant is leading the Cubs and everything else we learned this week in MLB

We'll be taking a look at the most interesting takeaways every week this MLB season so check back every Sunday for our recap. Now, here's what we learned from Week 8 in MLB:


Astros look unstoppable during win streak

There's a reason why the Houston Astros were the unanimous pick by the CBS Sports MLB staff writers to win this year's AL West, and 3 of 5 writers' pick for World Series champion. Entering Sunday, the Astros have won 10 straight games, matching their longest win streak of the season, as they also won 10 straight, April 5-16. Houston is just the third team in MLB history to have two win streaks of at least 10 games before June 1. The others were the 1941 Cardinals and 1955 Dodgers (per Elias). The Astros have gone 13-3 in the month of May, with all three losses coming during the first week of May so since then, the team's looked flat out unstoppable. They rolled over the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, in games one and two of their three-game series at Fenway Park. If the Astros complete the sweep on Sunday, it would be their first ever series sweep at Fenway Park and just their second series sweep overall against the Red Sox. Less than two months into the 2019 MLB season, the Astros have already collected six series sweeps.

Houston's offense in particular has been unbelievable. The team's lineup is currently on pace to rank among the best offenses in the past 100 years, by the weighted runs created plus (wRC+) statistic. wRC+ is park and league-adjusted, it allows the ability to to compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues. Take a look at the full list below. Teams with an asterisk went on to win World Series that season. 

  • 2019 Astros: 133
  • 1927 Yankees: 126*
  • 1930 Yankees: 124
  • 2017 Astros: 122*
  • 1976 Reds: 120*
  • 1982 Brewers: 120
  • 2003 Red Sox: 120

The next closest team to the Astros' 133 wRC+? The Los Angeles Dodgers, who currently rank second in the league with a 114 wRC+. Houston also takes the top rank in another important offensive statistic, run differential. The Astros have the league's best run differential at plus-93, and the Minnesota Twins are the second best at plus-77. The Astros have hit 11 home runs in their last six games (since May 12). Houston's offense leads the majors in OPS (.863), OBP (.354), slugging (.509), batting average (.282) and hits (442), while ranking 2nd in runs (255) and 3rd in home runs (85). This team's lineup is one of the most complete in all of baseball, and if they continue to get this kind of production this team will be unstoppable as we head towards the dog days of summer.

Braves closing on first-place Phillies

The Atlanta Braves have shaken off their sluggish and streaky start to the 2019 season, and now they're chasing the Philadelphia Phillies for first place in the National League East. Entering Sunday, the Braves have won eight of their last nine games after slipping to two games below .500 last week. They're now just a game and a half back of first place in the division. After the first quarter of play, the NL East failed to match the pre-season high expectations. Right now, outside of the first-place Phillies, the Braves are really the only team out of the four worth mentioning, other than perhaps the Miami Marlinsbut that would be for reasons on the other side of the spectrum.

Thanks to a balanced offense that includes young talent like Ronald Acuna Jr. along with veterans Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, the Braves are hitting a NL-best .264 (3rd best in MLB). Atlanta also ranks in the top 10 in the NL for runs (2nd, 239), hits (2nd, 214), doubles (6th, 76), triples (2nd, 12) and home runs (4th, 67). The bright parts of the Braves' season thus far have been the young lineup -- the team has five players under age 25 on the roster -- living up to their potential along with right-handed rookie Mike Soroka's breakout season. The biggest thing that may end up hurting Atlanta when it comes to vying for that first-place spot is their bullpen; it's a bit of a mess. the Braves bullpen ERA of 4.59 ranks in the bottom half of the league as the 21st worst. But the main takeaway after the eighth week of the MLB season is that this Braves team is picking up steam, and it's enough to tack on wins as they try to repeat as division champs.

Bryant's hot streak leading the way for Cubs

I wrote about the Cubs back when they were struggling and had started the season 2-6, and I highlighted them again after they made bullpen adjustments, and now they're getting a third nod in this week's 'What We Learned' because we're going to explore the Cubs' offense, namely the production from former NL MVP Kris Bryant.

Bryant, a homegrown Cub and fixture in the clubhouse, has officially pushed concerns of his lack of power completely out of the picture. He's rebounded from his slow start to the 2019 and finally looks like himself again. Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras are at the core of the Cubs NL-best OPS of .794. While Rizzo, Baez and Contreras deserve all the praise for their production lately (especially, Baez who ranks 3rd in the NL for WAR), it's a great sign for the Cubs' NL Central contention that Bryant is back.

In the Cubs' rout of the Nationals on Friday (CHIC 14, WAS 6), Bryant hit three home runs, crushing a homer each time he was at-bat in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Bryant has been a key part of the Cubs offensive explosion this past month, and he'll look to continue to be a centerpiece as the Cubs try to extend their NL Central lead.

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