The Astros are in their fourth World Series in six years. They’ve retained juggernaut status. It seems routine how they’ve played deep into October each of the last six seasons, and have even swept their way to the Fall Classic this year.
The reality, however, is that it’s anything but routine.
During this playoff run, I’ve thought more and more about 2017 and how utterly new and exciting it felt. At the time, it was unheard of in Houston — baseball had never delivered the city a title before.
Now five years later, that sentiment isn’t gone, but it’s definitely changed. While each playoff contest still induces high levels of anxiety, the feelings of pure hope and cautious optimism in 2017 have been replaced by sky-high expectations and a fear of failure. If that sounds melodramatic, it probably is, but I figure it’s nevertheless an accurate description of the evolution of Astros fandom during the club’s golden age.
Despite the altered perspective that has normalized these deep playoff runs, it would be misguided to take this current one for granted. Though the next few years should see a continuation of this current Astros era, it would be folly to outright believe that another World Series berth is inevitable in the near future.
The Astros have been defeated in each of their last two appearances, and that cannot happen again.
It’s awfully rare to get this many cracks in a relatively short period of time. Squandering another prime opportunity — especially against another team that is outmatched from a talent standpoint — would be nothing short of disastrous.
The regular-season win discrepancy between the Astros and Phillies has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so, as it’s been more than 100 years since the World Series featured two teams with such starkly different win totals. Pundits have pointed out how it’s ultimately a meaningless tidbit since both teams won’t be playing dozens of games against each other, merely between four and seven instead.
But there is something to be said about how purportedly uneven the matchup is between the two clubs, the finite, best-of-seven series notwithstanding.
The truth is that the Astros could not have asked for a more beneficial matchup. It’s not to say the Padres wouldn’t have made for a slightly easier opponent — they very well might have — but the Astros are not dealing with one of the National League’s heavyweights. Teams such as the Dodgers or the Braves would’ve presented a greater challenge, and I think it’s fair to state that as a matter-of-fact.
Perhaps it’s foolish to believe that given the final result of 2019 and 2021, when the Nationals and Braves, respectively, beat the Astros in the last game of the season. Two teams whose rosters were not as well-rounded still came away with the hardware. Each outcome was crushing, but failure this time around would undoubtedly take the cake.
It’s possible the Astros won’t make it back to the World Series for quite some time after this year, and it’s precisely why they can’t let another ring slip through their fingers.