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Orange Wagon

The Astros’ Orange Wagon picks up steam

They may not be the Big Red Machine, but they're marching on

The Astros’ Orange Wagon is not even firing on all cylinders yet. That should be the scariest thing for the rest of baseball.

The Astros are the hottest team in baseball, abusing opposing pitchers with impunity. They’ve now won 11 in a row while missing All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman for most of that winning streak.

Because of Bregman’s absence and the few times the Astros failed to capitalize with the bases loaded Thursday night, Baker refused to bite when asked if his team was firing on all cylinders.

Baker passed on the trite assessment. Nonetheless, the legendary manager who once smoked pot with Jimi Hendrix still delivered the line of the night.

Not quite Big Red Machine

Baker dug deep into his long list of experiences to peg these hot Astros with a new nickname. For comparison, he mentioned the Big Red Machine made famous by the late Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez.

“Right now, they’re as good as it gets,” Baker said after the 12-3 victory over the Tigers. “Like I played against the Big Red Machine. We’re not quite the Big Red Machine, but maybe we’re the Orange Wagon or something. I don’t know, but we’re approaching some historical numbers and figures as far as hitting is concerned.”

The Astros haven’t tasted defeat since a 5-2 loss to the Twins on June 12. They’ve outscored opponents 93-24 since starting the streak with a 14-3 victory over the Twins on June 13.

Considering the 2017 World Series title, the 2019 American League Pennant and the four consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series, the Astros might eventually be worthy of a dynastic nickname.

The Astros have pounded the second-worst team in baseball and three of the four worst teams in the AL during the streak. They also had a four-game sweep against the White Sox, who had the best record in the AL when they arrived in Houston for that series. 

Shortstop Carlos Correa compared this recent run favorably to the others the Orange Wagon has had since his 2015 AL Rookie of the Year season. 

Lots of fun

“It’s definitely been a lot of fun,” Correa said. “It’s up there for sure. Seeing everybody performing, everybody happy after every game is what you want to see from your ballclub. Everybody’s putting good at-bats together. We’re controlling the zone real well. It’s definitely up there.”

Rookie righthanded pitcher Luis Garcia appreciated the run support Thursday in Detroit. The offense gave him more confidence on the mound. 

Equally important, Baker notes, the Astros are playing well defensively. He credited bench coach Joe Espada for all the extra infield work he puts in with the players before games. He also credited first base coach Omar Lopez and third base coach Gary Pettis, who calls in while he’s away from the team fighting cancer. 

“That’s the key,” Baker said of the defense. “We’re No. 1 in the league in defense. Nobody talks about that. Defense, we take pride in defense. We love to hit. Everybody loves to hit, but defense is work. These guys work on it every day.”

The Astros are on such a roll they scored 12 runs on a night Jose Altuve was given off to rest. They’ve feasted without Bregman in the lineup.

The Orange Wagon has found ways to succeed despite missing key players for short and long stretches season. Bregman is merely the latest superstar to land on the injured list.

They have multiple players worthy of All-Star berths. Heck, Correa was even adamant that Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA) deserves a place at the All-Star Game next month at Coors Field.

Just don’t ask Baker if his team if the Astros are firing on all cylinders now.

Orange Wagon missing cylinder

“No,” Baker said. “Not really (on all cylinders). You cannot make my mouth say something that I don’t believe. We left 12 men on base with the bases loaded like three or four times. That’s not clicking on all cylinders. … 

“Plus at the same time, one of our main cylinders is out, in Bregman. We get Bregman back and we keep doing what we’re doing, then we’ll be clicking on all cylinders.”

Yet the Orange Wagon keeps cruising along with the best record in the American League. Only the San Francisco Giants (48-26, .649 winning percentage) have a better winning percentage than the Astros (47-28, .627).

“What’s impressed me the most is that these guys expect to win,” Baker said. “They’re not (overjoyed). Haven’t heard anybody talk about a winning streak at all, not one. They just come out and take care of business. Then we come back the next day and try to do the same thing.”

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