A few thoughts on a Sunday when the Astros wake up in their own beds with a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.
The Luhnow Plan.
Teams across the majors are likely studying up on The Luhnow Plan, breaking it apart piece by piece, trade by trade, acquisition by acquisition. Those who scoffed at it five years ago aren’t scoffing any longer. Those who were skeptical are now lauding The Plan. Those who thought Luhnow would be fired soon are now wishing they’d hired him. To be sure, Luhnow learned on the job. There were failures, there was trial and error. His trade shrewdness has even improved to go along with his free agent and waiver wire pickups and he now looks like a genius. Luhnow will be named Executive of the Year on many ballots and by many outlets this winter and he’ll get a hefty pay raise if that hasn’t already happened.
How the organization got here.
You can point to the Verlander trade as the turning point to the season, but I submit to you the turning point to the 2017 season came with three straight 100-loss seasons. Those lost seasons (and throw in a 76-86 2010 season) resulted in Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Lance McCullers Jr, Mark Appel (see Ken Giles) and Daz Cameron (see Justin Verlander) joining the Astros in the first round of the drafts. Correa, Bregman, Springer and McCullers could/should be center piece of the organization for several years while Verlander and Giles have already helped to write Houston lore. Appel and Cameron are, at best, “we’ll sees”.
Let the debate begin…
I’ll follow-up with a post-season series (yes, just a little tease), but let’s kick it off with an obvious discussion. With three batting titles, four 20o-hit seasons, five All Star appearances and a possible MVP trophy this year, is Jose Altuve the best second baseman to ever play for the Astros? Careful now, you have Joe Morgan, Bill Doran, Jeff Kent and some guy named Biggio in that mix.
Just a few other notes…
- The thrill of victory is especially sweet for Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock. They are still around from that 51-111 season in 2013.
- How nice is it when you finally get it right? Luhnow had to go through two full-time and two interim managers to get to A.J. Hinch. Now, Hinch has become the Astros’ all-time leading manager in win percentage (271-215, .558). The last manager with a winning record as Astros’ manager was Cecil Cooper (171-170).
- Marwin Gonzalez played six different positions for Houston this season (he didn’t pitch, catch or play center field). After leading the team in RBI (90) and cementing himself in left field during the post season, will he ever be a Super Sub again? Or has he — at the ripe ol’ age of 28 — become an everyday player?
- Remember when Houston was also known as Whiff City, leading the league in strikeouts with strikeout specialists like Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell, Jason Castro and Colby Rasmus? Remember when Luhnow said (at his initial press conference) that he’d focus on OBP and preferred walks? The Astros struck out fewer times in 2017 than any other major league team and led the majors in runs scored (896) for the first time ever.
- How crazy is it that Sports Illustrated actually predicted this run back in 2014. Before Correa, before Bregman, before Josh Reddick, before Yuli Gurriel, Evan Gattis, Ken Giles or Brian McCann.
- Charlie Morton is scheduled to go in Game 3, and the Astros have TBD for their starter in Game 4. No Peacock?
- By the way, many of you were begging for the Astros to trade for Sonny Gray earlier in the summer and lamenting the fact he “got away” to the Yankees. Hmm, if that trade had happened, there would likely not have been an August blockbuster that brought Verlander over. Just sayin’.