By Brett Dolan

What a difference a year makes. Just ask Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. The bearded left-hander threw 7.2 innings Sunday afternoon, allowing just one run in a 7-2 win over Oakland that improved the club to 16-9, a stark contrast to the 7-17 beginning from a year ago.

“The team we have right now is head and shoulders above the team we had in ’15,” Keuchel explained. “I think we played out of our minds in ’15 and it kind of showed in ’16. We actually weren’t that good to be honest with you. This year we are pretty good and we know that going in so that’s why we are confident each and every night we go out and play.”

Playing behind Keuchel has been a treat for the Astros. The former Cy-Young winner finished April with a 5-0 record and 1.21 ERA, allowing just 25 hits and six runs in 44.2 innings of work.

Manager A.J. Hinch thought Keuchel’s performance could have been his best of the year.

“It was one of the best,” Hinch said. “He was really good. I know he was pretty good last time too. Just his command and control of himself, of his pitches, of his fastball, his changeup, I mean he did everything right.”

Hinch was also pleased with his team’s performance over the first month.

“I am proud of the guys,” he said. “Obviously we had a lot of wins. We even had a few wins that snuck away from us. When you walk out of April as a winning month, we played well, obviously in different facets. We haven’t all put it together, which is a good sign. I think there are areas for us to get better. A manager is always going to sit up here and say that. But with one month down, obviously there is a long way to go, but we had a very successful month.”

The club’s hot start will be contrasted with a four-game series starting Monday against the nemesis Texas Rangers.

Hinch was interested in dissecting why Texas has owned the season series against his team the last two years.

“They beat us,” he said matter of factly. “They have won the division two years in a row. I don’t need to relive the 38 games we played them. Those are over. If I am not going to relive them I certainly don’t want my players to do so. We have to start over fresh tomorrow with the 2017 Silver Boot Series.”

“I mean it is going to be big,” Keuchel said. “We’ve got to beat the Rangers to do anything this year.”

Lance McCullers will start for Houston against the Rangers Andrew Cashner in a 7:10 p.m. first pitch from Minute Maid Park.



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