The postmortem from a two-day crash and burn of the local nine in the World Series against the Nationals is a bit soul crushing. The Astros put their top two bullets into their gun (Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander) at home and ended up shooting blanks with Cole getting his first loss in five months and Verlander mostly pitching well, but moving to 0-5 with a 5.73 ERA in six career WS starts.
In Game One, the Astros died on their inability to knock in their teammates when on base and from an uncharacteristic poor start from Cole (five runs given up in the first five innings).
Game Two was more of a team effort as the Astros combined their hitting woes (9 LOB and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position), questionable managing tactics (putting the rookie Kyle Tucker in a two out bases loaded spot where he failed, removing JV’s designated catcher, removing JV from the game, etc), a poor two-run first inning of starting pitching by Verlander, fielding meltdowns by Alex Bregman (failure to keep the game at 3-2 with a fumbled two out grounder and a later wild throw to first) and a bullpen that gave up eight runs in three innings.
And other than that – were you enjoying “Our American Cousin” Mrs. Lincoln until the third act?
What are the Astros facing at this point?
- They are facing the monumental task of winning four of five games with three of them on the road. Remember when picturing come from behind rallies, that the Astros have not come back to win any game this season, including the playoffs, that they trailed after 8 innings.
- They will be putting their faith in Zack Greinke in the 3rd game and TBD Mystery Starter in the 4th game.
- They will be playing a team in the Washington Nationals that is on an absolute tear – having won 3 of their last 4 against the Dodgers to take the NLDS, followed by a 4 game sweep of the Cards in the NLCS. And of course they have taken the first two games of the World Series from the probable AL Cy Young winner and his runner-up.
- The Nats are on a physical and emotional high. They had made the playoffs in 4 out of 6 seasons (2012 – 2017) as division winners with high expectations and failed to get past the division series all four times. This season they started poorly, made a run to be a Wild Card with much less expectations and had to make an improbably late inning comeback against Josh Hader to get past the Brewers in the WC game. Their franchise, the Expos/Nats had never been to a World Series, much less won one in their 50 year history. Right now they are the equivalent of Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic – they are kings of the world and feeling it.
- The Astros may feel the immediate championship window closing on them. They are not likely to have Gerrit Cole next season, nor a reasonable facsimile. Their rotation will likely center on 36 and 37 year old starters in Verlander and Greinke. They won it all in 2017, were derailed in the ALCS due to injuries in 2018 and are getting buried by a steamroller, so far, in 2019. It is not likely next year’s team will be better than this year’s best in baseball 107 win model.
After getting pounded by the shock and awe of two unexpected losses, the Astros’ fans and their team may look at this as a crossroads. Looking one way – the tombstone that appeared in the Houston Chronicle (spit!!) on May 24, 2005 may be better applied to this team. They could easily curl up in a ball and go through the motions until an inevitable 4th loss appears on their 2019 WS record.
Or…. they could do like that 2005 team did and rise from the ashes.
The current situation brings to mind the famous Choke City Houston Chronicle (Spit!!) headline, from May 12, 1994, which appeared after the Houston Rockets lost their first two playoff games to the Phoenix Suns at home, including blowing a 20 point 4th quarter lead. The Rockets took the Choke City mantle and turned it into Clutch City as they won 4 of 5 from the Suns, including two on the road, knocked off the Utah Jazz and then held off the NY Knicks for their first championship.
Three of the thirteen World Series teams that have lost their first two games at home have come back to win the WS. During the regular season, the Astros won 4 of 5 or 5 of 5 games eighteen separate times. It is do-able. But they have to show Clutch genes that have been missing so far.