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The Astros aren’t a juggernaut, they’re a marvel

Somehow, the steady exodus of star talent in recent years has not reduced the Astros’ capabilities.

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The amount of talent that has departed Houston in recent years would fill up a decent portion of an All-Star roster. Their names are some of the most recognizable in baseball: Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Carlos Correa — it’s unusual for a team to let players as talented as this trio walk in three consecutive years. It’s far more unusual for that team to remain a contender afterward.

Unusual isn’t even an adequate word to describe the Astros’ unparalleled sustainment of success the last several years, beginning in 2017 when Houston captured the World Series title for the first time in history, albeit in highly controversial fashion. A stretch that includes five straight League Championship Series appearances is something that hasn’t been seen since the legendary Braves teams of the 1990s.

It’s an historic run the Astros are on. And the fact that it’s continued in spite of key losses each offseason is nothing short of extraordinary.

2021 was supposed to be it. Maybe not quite a last hurrah of sorts, but the impending departure of Correa in the ensuing offseason made the season feel like the club’s contention window was closing. At the very least, it seemed like last year would be the best, final chance for the Astros to win another ring. It ended in crushing fashion, a mere two victories shy of achieving every contender’s ultimate goal.

Although free agency saw Justin Verlander re-sign with the Astros, preseason expectations were not as lofty as in years past. Correa’s exit materialized as he inked a short-term contract with the Twins. He left an enormous hole at one of the most important positions on the diamond, and while expanded playoffs meant the Astros would be favored to secure one of the six spots in the American League, it was difficult to envision another World Series run with yet another foundational player signing elsewhere in free agency.

But now more than a month into the season, it appears the Astros’ trajectory should’ve remained unchanged even after what transpired during the offseason, because entering Friday they boast a 25-14 record that features both the fourth-best winning percentage and run differential in the big leagues.

The Astros are not the ordinary playoff contender that some expected them to be. They’re at the forefront of the AL and currently possess the third-best World Series odds according to FanGraphs.

Jeremy Peña has been a revelation at the plate with his power and surprisingly competent contact skills and an exceptional defender at shortstop, routinely making difficult plays appear easy. He is not only the clear favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year, but is on pace to finish around or inside the Top 10 in fWAR.

On the heels of a 10-game stretch where the Astros pitching staff registered a 0.90 ERA, the offense has scored at least five runs in nine of the last 11 games, including a May 17 thrashing at Fenway Park where Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi allowed five home runs in a single inning, paving the way for a dominant 13-4 road victory.

It’s not surprising that the likes of Yordan Álvarez, José Altuve and Kyle Tucker have produced tremendous numbers — with Álvarez building a case as the game’s greatest hitter — but considering Peña’s immediate breakout (151 wRC+, 92nd percentile OAA), Verlander’s remarkable return post-Tommy John surgery (1.38 ERA, 2.67 xERA) and a bullpen ERA that is the second-lowest in the bigs, and it’s not hard to see how the reigning AL champions have remained on track.

The organization’s brass was clearly confident they would survive the losses of Cole, Springer and now Correa, but the Astros are not just surviving, they’re functioning like the well-oiled machine they’re perceived to be, an effective Terminator that keeps coming no matter the damage inflicted.

At this point, who’s to say they can’t continue to replicate the success of the last five years?