Seven straight postseason appearances. Eight in the last nine seasons. Easy to take for granted, right? Well, those kinds of runs aren’t common in baseball. October baseball is a privilege, not an annual occurrence for most teams. And that is why I try to savor every moment when the Astros clinch a berth in the postseason as you never quite know when the good times will end.
But the ultimate goal isn’t to make it to the postseason, at least for this organization. It hasn’t been for a while now. Another World Series title is that goal, although it did look doubtful for a bit about whether this team would even qualify for another round of October baseball. I mean, it has been a somewhat odd season, with multiple expected contenders out of the running by July and August. But the Astros were able to win just enough — with some unnecessary heartburn along the way — to qualify for another turn of postseason baseball.
The biggest takeaway from Saturday’s game against the Diamondbacks? It only reinforced the rationale of why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander a second time. Although the veteran right-hander hasn’t been nearly as dominant or even as efficient as last season, Verlander’s return has at least boosted the floor of a rotation struggling for chunks of the season with regression and injuries. There is value to that kind of production, especially for a team with little room for error for basically the entire season. While he wasn’t as efficient as one would hope for in a game of this magnitude — 94 pitches in five innings — Verlander did his job as he held the Diamondbacks to no runs while allowing two hits and three walks. He also struck out five, generating seven whiffs in the process. Again, not the most impressive outing, but Verlander did enough to keep his team in a prime position to win. Sometimes that is all you need.
The lineup, on the other hand, has been pretty much the José Abreu show and I am not sure that I like it. Don’t get me wrong as I have enjoyed watching Abreu step up, with both his bat and glove lately.
But whenever he is responsible for all three of your runs in the last 18 innings, it is a tiny bit disconcerting. With that said, Abreu’s contributions were enough with how Verlander, José Urquidy, Martín Maldonado’s arm, and the bullpen pitched in the past two games. And, surely, some of the other bats will step up next week, or at least one could hope.
Talking about that bullpen, well, they’ve been fantastic as of late. Two earned runs in the last nine games — 34 innings — is quite impressive, especially with the stakes this high.
Astros’ bullpen last nine games:— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) October 1, 2023
2 earned runs
As you likely recall, the bullpen was excellent at run prevention last postseason and was instrumental as the Astros claimed their second World Series title. I have a feeling that the Astros will need more of the same in this upcoming postseason run, especially as the rotation isn’t quite as potent as last October. If this club makes another deep run into October, the bullpen will likely be viewed as a main contributor.
Again, what a wild ride. In a season when more went wrong than anticipated, it was a relief in a way to see these Astros clinch another postseason trip. I am not sure how far they’ll ultimately go and how it will all unfold, but to qualify for seven consecutive postseasons is an impressive feat in itself. Enjoy it, Houston, as we’re guaranteed at least one more October of that stressful wonder known as postseason baseball.