I have this long-time friend. Let’s call him Mr. X. Way back in 1975 he fell down the steps in his parent’s house bumping his head on his sister’s Pet Rock and ever since, strange things happen with him. He gets “visions” that he will share with me occasionally and, well, they have been pretty amazing. Among the things he has predicted ahead of time were the Larry Andersen trade for Jeff Bagwell, the shift of Craig Biggio to second base and that Patrick Duffy’s character had not really died in the TV show “Dallas” and that he would return the next season.
So when he calls me up and tells me he has had a “vision” of the Astros whole 2020 season, well I not only have to pay attention, I need to record it for posterity and my loyal bloggers.
We met at a local Chuy’s where I bought him his usual “Elvis Presley Memorial Combo”. This is usually the only payment he requires, though occasionally he needs a ride back and forth from his parent’s house where he still lives in his old 10′ X 10′ bedroom in the back and makes money broadcasting his “Gambler’s Investors Daily” radio shows on the weekends.
Dan P: Hey X, thanks for meeting me today. I understand that you had a vision laying out the whole of the 2020 season for the Astros. How did that come to happen?
Mr. X: Well, you know my parents are the last people in the Greater Houston area to still own and use a rooftop aerial for their 1953 Philco black and white TV. Well, I was up there on the roof adjusting it when that storm we had last week kicked up and a bolt of lightning decided I was part of the shortest route to the ground. I fell off the roof luckily landing on my sister’s trampoline and the nurse next door came over and started CPR on me within a couple minutes. But while I was out – I was sucked in towards the light and met a trio of the late Loel Passe, Spec Richardson and Jose Lima. They quickly told me how the 2020 season would unfold for the Astros. I don’t know how they fit it all into a couple minutes or how the heck I remembered it – but they did and I did.
Dan P: That’s a fascinating story X. Can you take me through what you can remember?
Mr. X: Sure. Here’s what I can remember…..
January will start off quietly and morph into a jarring month. The Astros will exchange arbitration figures with all their eligible players and will come to agreements with Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Aledmys Diaz. They will go to actual hearings in February with George Springer, Carlos Correa and Roberto Osuna. Then the Astros surprise a few teams by signing the oft-injured, but effective when healthy Alex Wood on a 1 year/$8 MM deal for the back of the rotation.
The month will turn on the announcement of the results of the cheating scandal. The Astros championship trophy remains untouched. The team is fined $5 MM and loses a 1st round pick in 2020 and a 2nd round pick in 2021. Jeff Luhnow is handed a one-year suspension and A.J. Hinch gets a 3 month regular season suspension, but cannot manage in the 2020 playoffs should the Astros make it and the honor of managing the All Star team is given to Yanks’ manager Aaron Boone. No players are punished, but Dean Wormer places them on double-secret probation. Major league baseball is very unclear about what other teams it has or will investigate based on what they found out. They have assigned a former Secret Service agent to stand next to Mike Fiers when he takes the mound in 2020.
In February, the Astros will go to arbitration with Springer, Osuna and Correa. The first two win their hearings, while the team beats Correa. The players report in mid-February to Spring Training and amazingly every one of them is in the best shape of their lives. The Astros beat the Nationals in the first game of Spring training on the February 22, but the Nats are still the World Series champions.
In March, the Astros decide they have seen enough good things out of some of their younger pitchers for bullpen spots, like Bryan Abreu and a surprising dark horse, Francis Martes and they trade Chris Devenski to the Pirates and release Joe Biagini. The Astros start the season on the road in Oakland and for some reason, Mike Fiers is not able to answer the bell for the first three games. Reasons given are “He has a case of the Mondays”, “His feng shui consultant has not approved changes to the stadium, yet” and “His dog ate his homework”.
The Astros struggle a bit in April as they seem to be trying to over-prove they are not cheaters. George Springer is leading the league in strikeouts and Jose Altuve is on top with the most infield pop-ups. They settle down a bit and end the month with a 14-17 record (including 6 games played in March). Carlos Correa plays every game, but everyone walks around him like they are in an antique store, hoping to not be the one to trigger glass breakage. The Astros, while they wait for Hinch to come back from suspension install Larry Dierker as interim manager to start the season. After one week he has had enough of the pointy head patrol telling him what to do and Phil Garner takes over. He lasts two weeks and Art Howe comes in to prove that what he said about not being like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Moneyball is true. The A’s come into Houston for a 3 game series without Mike Fiers. He has taken maternity leave as he has a guppy who is expecting.
The Astros get their mojo back in May as they go 20-9 including an eight-game winning streak. Justin Verlander is the AL Pitcher of the month with a 4-0 record and the 4th no-hitter of his Hall of Fame career. One of the down points is when the Yankees come into town and Gerrit Cole throws a complete game shutout and the Yanks take 2 out of 3 at Minute Maid. Towards the end of the month the Athletics visit for a four-game series. Mike Fiers starts two games in a row in the previous series and is unavailable until the next series after they leave Houston.
In June the Astros go 15-9 against a fairly easy schedule. The injury problems that they normally face every year hit them in waves again as Michael Brantley pulls a hammy, Yuli Gurriel hurts his thumb trying to catch an errant throw into a runner and Carlos Correa goes down with prolapsed hemorrhoids. Luckily, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez share AL player of the month honors with 12 HRs and 30 RBIs apiece. Zack Greinke continues his steady work in the rotation and Lance McCullers misses two starts with a tired arm. The MLB draft is held June 10-12 and the Astros have to wait for the last pick of the 2nd round for their first pick of the draft and then the last compensation pick after the 2nd round for the loss of Cole. Oh, the Astros visit Oakland for a three-game series and Mike Fiers is supposed to pitch the Sunday get-away game, but it is postponed after a mysterious bomb threat is received just before the game.
The Astros have a very solid month in July going 16-9. There is controversy on the All Star team selection as not one of the Astros is voted onto the team by the fans (9 position players) despite at least three of the players (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer) deserving the honor. The player voting, which covered 5 starters, 3 relievers and a backup at eight positions does not include any Astros even though this ignores the seasons that Verlander, Roberto Osuna, and Yuli Gurriel have put up. Manager Boone chooses 8 additional players and only picks Verlander (who pitched on Sunday and won’t be available for the Tuesday game) and the fans choose a non-Astro for the last spot in the game.
The Astros play the Nationals in DC in early July and sweep the Nats. They are still not the World Series champs. They play their last seven games of the season (3 home and 4 on the road including the makeup game) against the A’s between July 17 and 29. Mike Fiers goes on the IL with anal fissures on July 16 and comes off on the 31st. In the last couple of days before the trade deadline, Josh Reddick is sent to the Mets for a couple of so-so prospects. The Astros pick up a pitching rental who will be a free agent at the end of the season in Cole Hamels from the Braves, who have had an unexpected disappointing season.
The Astros take advantage of an August schedule liberally sprinkled with the Mariners, D’Backs, Blue Jays and Tigers and go 21-7. They have not been happy campers after the All Star game disrespect. Altuve goes off and raises his batting average above .330, while Brantley goes on a 20 game hitting streak. Verlander misses his first time since joining the Astros when he has to have his appendix out. Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers win 7 games between them and Ryan Pressley allows no runs for the second month in a row.
In September the Astros have an early month swoon, but buoyed by a 4 game sweep of the Yankees they put up a 14-11 record and become the first team in MLB history to reach 100 wins four games in a row. They win the AL West by 6 games over the resurgent Angels and head to the playoffs with the 2nd best record in the AL and the majors behind the Yanks.
In October, the Astros, utilize a manager by committee with Dierker, Garner and Howe sharing the dugout and take on the Twins and beat them 3-1 in the ALDS, losing the opener and then sweeping the next three games. This sets up the matchup everyone wanted to see with the Yanks hosting the Astros in the ALCS. It is a heavyweight matchup as the teams take turns – splitting the first 6 games. In Yankee Stadium in game 7 with the world watching, the Astros win 2-1 on a Yordan Alvarez 7th inning blast as Verlander beats Cole to send the team to the World Series again.
The World Series is a rare repeat (the last was when the Dodgers and Yankees met in 1977 and 1978) as the Nationals again go up against the Astros. Rob Manfred comes down with anal fissures and says he is not able to go to the opener in Houston. He asks Bud Selig to attend in his place, but he comes down with a case of prolapsed hemorrhoids. Manfred invites Nolan Ryan to his office and asks him to attend in his place. Nolan beats the holy hell out of Manfred and tells him to go face the booing in Houston or he will come back and do it again.
Manfred faces 10 minutes of booing for the first game and that is in the parking lot. The crowd settles down and the Astros do, also. The team’s offense is on fire in this series scoring an average of 8 runs per game. There are no accusations of cheating or trash can pounding as the only pounding is what the Astros are doing to the Nats’ pitchers. They take the Nats out 4-1, but the MVP is Verlander, who wins game 3 for his first World Series career win and then comes in for 2 shutout innings in Game 5 for the save that gives the Astros an untainted championship.
In November, the Astros don’t take home the Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, the MVP or the Manager of the Year awards, but they don’t care. In the week after the win they have one heckuva parade that has even more people in attendance than the one in 2017.
Dan P: That is an amazing story, X.
Mr. X: This is an amazing team and an amazing city.