It is time to tip a cap to the seminal jam band, the Grateful Dead, and sing a chorus of “what a long strange trip it’s been”. The Houston Astros 2015 season has been unexpected, exhilarating, maddening, inspired, expired, crazy, and one more time, unexpected.
The Astros were not supposed to be here. They were not supposed to be in a pennant race beyond April or May. They were not supposed to hang with the big boys, and hold onto first place for 3/4 of the season.
They were not supposed to go on a 10 game winning streak in the early season including 6 straight on the road. They were not supposed to be neck and neck or ahead of the Texas Rangers and the LAAAAAA Angels, teams with payrolls of $152 Million (Angels) and $140 Million (Rangers) respectively that are more than twice their own payroll.
They were not supposed to be contending with a team that was 14th out of 15 in the AL in BA and first (worst) in strikeouts. They were not supposed to be contending with George Springer missing 60 games, Jed Lowrie missing 90 games and Scott Feldman only making 18 starts.
They were not supposed to be led by wunderkind Carlos Correa, who has been doing his best “Derek Jeter with more power” impression. They were not supposed to have a reject manager named A.J. Hinch who is demonstrating that managing can be lovelier the second time around. They were not supposed to have an 18 game winner (Dallas Keuchel) and a 17 game winner (Collin McHugh) with 11 games to go, especially with McHugh’s up and down ERA clicking in at 3.93.
A 21-year-old named Lance McCullers Jr. was not supposed to leap from AA ball to the majors and produce 107+ quality innings with basically a K/IP and an ERA of 3.18. Will Harris was not supposed to be picked off the trash heap and produce a 1.65 ERA in 61 appearances.
30-year-old Mike Fiers, who had never pitched a complete game in his career was not supposed to make his first one a no-hitter in the middle of a pennant race. Luke Gregerson, who had never been the closer for a season, was not supposed to put up 7 wins and 28 saves and counting.
This team was not supposed to overcome the poor strategic and statistical hitting of Luis Valbuena, Chris Carter, Evan Gattis and Jason Castro. They were not supposed to survive the defensive butchery of Hank Conger.
But they have done all of this and are one game out of the division lead with the finish line just up around he next turn. What a long strange trip indeed.