- A season of adversity
I must admit, as much as I have admonished others for irrational despair, I myself have succumbed at times this year. Especially after the September slide, when the Astros lost seven of nine games to the two worst teams in baseball, meanwhile losing their tenuous hold on first place.
But taking the longer view, this season has proven yet again the Astros’ persistence and resilience. They have overcome adversity more times than we can recount here: Down two to one in the 2017 WS and losing Game 5 at home 4-0 to Kershaw before coming back to win 13-12 in extras.
Or being behind to Seattle the whole game in the ALDS Game 1 last year — until the last pitch to Yordan Alvarez.
Or down 2-1 to Phillies in last year’s WS — only to sweep the next three games.
This was a year for the Astros to fade. Injuries were devastating. Lance McCullers: out for the season. Luis Garcia: out for the season after a few games. Jose Urquidy: missed half the season. Michael Brantley: missed almost the whole season. The two best hitters, Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez, missed about half the season and two-fifths of the season, respectively.
Plus regression. Did anyone in their heart of hearts believe that Framber Valdez or Cristian Javier could repeat the seasons they had in 2022? And World Series hangover. It’s a real thing. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a World Series winner failed to make the playoffs the following year. And please stop the World Baseball Classic.
But even though the Astros never seemed to hit their stride, or click on all cylinders —pick your cliche — they never gave up, and played championship-level baseball down the stretch when everything was on the line.
2. The Next Men Up. With so many of the 2022 stars either injured or suffering regression, a number of unheralded or underappreciated players came forward unexpectedly to pick up much of the slack. Here’s to you Mauricio Dubon, Yainer Diaz, J.P. France, and Chas (Big Boy) McCormick.
3. It’s time to forgive Jose Abreu. OK, the $60 million man had a negative WAR. But going old-school, he still accrued 88 RBI.
Since Aug. 26, just after returning from IL, in 28 games, Abreu has 31 RBI while accruing a 129 WRC+, above career average. And, of course, in these past two most crucial games of the Astros season, he knocked in all the team’s runs.
He may have been playing slightly injured earlier this year. I haven’t lost hope for him going forward these next two years of his contract. But regardless, the Astros would not be in the playoffs without his big hits these last two games.
Did the Astros win because of Dusty Baker or despite him? Despite him.
4. Going forward. With the meltdown of Astros starting pitching since the All-Star Break, I have been skeptical of the Astros’ playoff chances. I’m still concerned about the consistency. But of late, Justin Verlander seems to have found his groove, Framber can still be dominant on a good day, Cristian Javier has settled down, and Jose Urquidy looks like he’s ready to be playoff-clutch yet again. And maybe France’s “family emergency” was a blessing in disguise. Missing a turn could bring back a little life to his tired arm.
Hector Neris is a dawg. But Bryan Abreu’s control and Ryan Pressly, in general, concern me.
Nonetheless, with the hope that the Astros pitching just might jell in time for the playoffs, I look forward to a seventh straight ALCS. Honestly, though, it looks like the NL will win the championship trophy this year. But you never know.