Editor’s note: The Cubs’ SB Nation editor, Al Yellon asked TCB to tell the story of the Astros, 2019. This is our contribution to the fans of Chicago. They have sent us the story of the Cubs, which you can find elsewhere on our homepage.
First off, what I’d like to say about the Astros, is that they are a team full of characters, and a team with a lot of character. These guys just love to play baseball, and they love each other just as much. There is amazing chemistry on this team, and their joy at baseball is infectious. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and yet the parts have elite individual talents.
So who are Astros?
Jose Altuve: The Heart and Soul
He has a heart like a lion, speed of a thoroughbred, strength of Samson, and joy and determination streaming like light out of every pore. He was raised in poverty in his native Venezuela, and because baseballs were scarce, he learned to bat swinging sticks at bottle caps. When he was a teenager, multiple MLB teams rejected him at their tryouts because he was too small, including the Astros. But when he came back for day two of a tryout, Al Pedrique offered him a contract with a $16,000 signing bonus. Still, in his first year in the Venezuelan League his opponents called him “El Enamo,” the midget. At least for a while. He shot up through the Astros system at rocket speed, eventually winning silver sluggers, batting titles, MVP’s, World Series Trophies, and he’s only 28. Next stop: Hall of fame. (after a few more Titles that is)
Carlos Correa: The Captain
Born to even more extreme poverty in Puerto Rico, when Carlos was still a very young boy he was so sure he would one day be a professional ballplayer that he asked his dad to send him to an academy to learn English so he could “speak for himself.” His father took on a third job to pay for that, and after work, in the late evening, young Carlos would force his exhausted dad to go to the field every day for batting practice. For fielding practice they would go to a place where the tree roots protruded, and Carlos would practice fielding balls off the roots to get used to bad bounces. When he went to school with bruises on his face, he had to explain that it was just his baseball training, and not his parents beating him.
Although most Puerto Rican prospects play their senior years in America, Carlos spent his in his homeland, so that the scouts would come to the island and see the other great players. No problem, he was drafted 1-1, and he wears the number one to remind himself of what is expected of him and what he expects of himself; to be the best. Hard to believe he is still only 24, and though having a great year, the best is yet to come.
George Springer: The Joy
There he is. Tiny young George. Born to play. Baseball is wrapped in his DNA like the threads of a baseball. Three generations ago Springers came to America from Panama to play pro-baseball, and this young man would make that dream come true.
But the path was exceedingly painful for young Springer. He was a stutterer. His bubbling exuberance, his hallmark joy and spontaneity, were bottled up inside him by a babel of language. But in baseball he found release, and an avenue for his irrepressible spirit to flow forth.
He is already a baseball immortal. His 2017 World Series performance probably ranks as the greatest of all time.
And through his SAY foundation he helps other youth find the confidence to function joyously and unself-consciously through life despite their disability as he has learned to do.
Alex Bregman: The Warrior
Alex Bregman is cut just a little different from the fellows above. Oh, they all have an obsessive will to compete, to improve, to win. Alex sure does. As a very young boy he practiced throwing and catching so much against a cinder block wall that he eventually knocked a hole through it. When he was four, he made an unassisted triple play in T-ball. At LSU they gave him a special pass to use the batting cages because he was always using them after midnight.
But with the other players I’ve mentioned, there’s the pure joy of playing. But with Alex, there’s just a little animosity in his game. The other guys, they want to win, real bad. Alex doesn’t just want to win, he wants to beat you. If George Springer plays like Willie Mays, Alex Bregman is a little like Ty Cobb.
The Astros need a tough guy like Alex Bregman. Every team needs one assassin. If I’m fighting in a foxhole, I want Alex Bregman next to me.
His walk-off hit in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series is, in my opinion, the greatest moment in the History of Astros baseball. If the team needs a hit to win the game, Alex Bregman says, “give me the bat.”
There are so many great Astros to talk about in 2019. I’ll just mention a few more.
Michael Brantley: The Pro
George Springer and newcomer “Uncle Mike” became fast friends, and many think Brantley has helped Springer have what is so far his best season, teaching him a little more patience. Meanwhile, Brantley is having a career year of his own, and if anyone plays baseball the right way, it is Michael Brantley.
Jake Marisnick: The Thief
Another paragon of what the Astros are all about, pure joy, pure effort, supporting his team above all. Watch out Cubbies. Better not hit the ball to center field, it’s a black hole out there with Jake on patrol. He might strike out a few times, but he could hit a 440 ft dinger too.
Tony Kemp: The Teammate
You just can’t understand the Astros if you don’t understand Hugs for Homers, and what a great support Tony Kemp is to the whole team.
I haven’t even mentioned so many players, especially the pitchers: Justin Verlander, having a another career year at 35 years old. Or Gerrit Cole, leading the AL in strikeouts and most peripheral categories. Or the surprising newcomer, Wade Miley, or one of our longer pedigreed Astros, Brad Peacock. Or amazing relief ace Ryan Pressly. But I’ve rhapsodized too long already. Let’s get to the stats.
Astros Pitching, 2019
The Astros staff has the second best ERA in baseball at 3.40, just behind the Tampa Bay Rays. The peripheral stats, like xFIP and SIERA, look even better for the Stros. It is actually the bullpen that is the greatest strength of the staff, ranked first in MLB in ERA and in the peripherals as well.
You won’t have to see Verlander this series, and his ERA is league leading at 2.38. By FIP and other peripherals he is pitching about a run higher than that, and has been blessed by a very low BABIP of .158
Another pitcher you won’t see is Brad Peacock, who is currently 15th in the AL in ERA at 3.19.
You will see Gerrit Cole today. He got hit pretty hard last time he pitched, but he leads the AL in K’s, and his 4.11 ERA is misleading, as he actually leads the league in xFIP at 2.37.
A new face you will encounter is Corbin Martin, fresh off the farm, replacing injured Collin McHugh. He is one of the first of the draft class of 2017 to graduate to the majors. He was dominant in his first start against the potent Rangers lineup, but he has struggled in two starts since. He’s got great stuff and a varied repertoire, but If you guys hit him hard, it might be his ticket back to the minors.
A pleasant surprise for the Astros has been Wade Miley, a free agent acquisition over the off-season. Miley is 18th in the AL in ERA at 3.32, although he is out performing peripherals by about a run. You will see him Tuesday.
If the Astros take a lead into the 7th inning it’s nearly lights out. Will Harris, Ryan Pressly, and closer Roberto Osuna have ERA’s of 1.02, 0.39, and 1.54 respectively. Hector Rondon has pitched respectably, but I’m sure you guys know the rap on him. Still true.
One to watch is a young flame thrower, Josh James. He’ll bring a hundred MPH, but he’s still honing his craft.
The “lights out” bullpen teetered a bit against Boston, with Pressly allowing his first run in 40 appearances, and Osuna allowing three runs in the last two games and needing some fancy glove work from Marisnick to save him from even more.
Astros Hitting, 2019
The Astros have been crushing it this year, with a 128 wRC+, best in baseball, and better than the 1927 Yankees. They are first in BA, first in OBP, second in slugging, and third in home runs.
George Springer leads the AL in wRC+ and home runs. Alex Bregman is 8th in wRC+ and second in home runs. Carlos Correa has recovered very nicely from last year’s back problems, currently 13th in wRC+ with 11 home runs. Michael Brantley, a free agent who came from Cleveland, is having a career year, currently 10th in the AL in wRC+, sixth in BA, and with 10 home runs to boot. And Josh Reddick is having a great bounce back year, third in the AL with a .333 BA. One more mention, the surprising production from our new catcher, Robinson Chirinos, hitting 133 wRC+.
Fortunately for you Cubbies out there, George Springer injured his hamstring and will not be playing for an extended period of time. Jose Altuve just went off the IL and is rehabbing in the minors. He may or may not return by the end of this series. His able replacement, Aledmys Diaz, also just went down with a hamstring injury, so the Cubs get the Astros in a hobbled condition.
As awesome as the Astros lineup sounds, the bats have been scuffling the last week or so, hitting at league average for the last seven days.
So it seems, from the Cubs point of view, you come to minute Maid at the right time, with the Astros nursing key injuries, with the bats and bullpen slumping, and with favorable starting pitching match ups.
These were the conditions that obtained for the World Champs who preceded you here, and we still took two out of three.
It’s fun to have you back friends. It’s gonna feel like old times again. Should be a great series.