Let’s face facts. We can hardly wait until the awful, terrible, horrible 2020 year ends. And probably three weeks ago, we thought that we could hardly wait until the 2020 baseball season would be over. We were wondering if the team that played embarrassingly bad down the stretch would further embarrass us in the best of three-game Wild Card playoff against the Twins.
But a different Astros team knocked off the Twins in two straight and then took three out of four from the AL West Champion Oakland A’s in the ALDS. Then they morphed back into a losing proposition in the first three games against the Rays in the ALCS.
The Astros then, behind their new leader in word and action, Carlos Correa roared back for three straight wins and came within an Alex Bregman extra-base hit of digging out of a 4-0 hole in the 7th game.
So, the fans emotions swung from negativity or apathy entering the postseason to a reason for positivity in both the postseason and heading into the 2021 season.
In the next weeks and months, we will have all those blog posts where we discuss all the decisions and actions that are to come during what promises to be a very eventful off-season, but right now will be the time to praise what we have seen in 2020.
In no particular order, here are odes to…
Kyle Tucker. The “Kid” has been a long time coming, but again he has been in the organization since he was drafted a few months past his 18th birthday in 2015. Well, he arrived in the majors with a bang in 2020 after a terrible cup of coffee in 2018 and a good cup of coffee in 2019. He ended the season first on the team in hits (56), tied for 2nd in doubles (12), 2nd in HRs (9), first in RBIs (42), first in SBs (8), 2nd in BA for qualifiers (.268) and SLG (.512) and third in OPS (.837). He hit .333 with RISP and RISP with 2 outs, and we can’t wait to see him grow in 2021.
Framber Valdez. There may be no single bigger surprise than Framber Valdez in 2020. He had shown talent and a ball with a lot of movement in his previous two stays with the big club, but he was walking more than 5.5 hitters per 9 innings in 2018 and 2019. But suddenly aliens kidnapped him and the substitute Valdez had control of one of the best curveballs in the game. By the time the short season (5-3, 3.57 ERA) and the playoffs (3-1, 1.88 ERA) were complete, Valdez was the Astros’ ace.
Carlos Correa. The biggest thing Correa did during the regular season was show up every day with his superior defense as he played in 58 out of 60 games. After playing in only 75 out of 162 games in 2019, this was a huge step forward. But it was in the playoffs where Correa really stepped up as in 13 games he had 7 runs scored, 6 HRs (only 5 in the regular season) and 17 RBIs! He also stood in front of the microphones and stood up for the talent of his teammates. He went from a possible trade chip to a possible future foundation piece for the team.
Dusty Baker. Most of us did not know what to expect from the “new” 70-year-old manager of the team. He has brought a lot of knowledge and a bit of serenity to a team that was in the unexpected territory as admitted cheaters. But perhaps his greatest skill this season was guiding a team to the cusp of the World Series which had lost two aces (Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander), its closer (Roberto Osuna), and its Rookie of the Year (Yordan Alvarez) and then had to juggle the usage of 10 pitchers who had never pitched in the majors before. It was a heckuva job to keep things together and to allow this team and many times these young players to believe in themselves.
Brent Strom. There is no doubt that the most important component of A.J. Hinch’s pitching staff was pitching coach Brent Strom. This was even more important in 2020 as the Astros had to put together patchwork quilts of a rotation and of a bulletin. Strom helped them make it through a “next man up” year to a point where their 2021 and beyond looks like a team built on a young and rising pitching staff.
Michael Brantley. The quiet man of the offense, all Brantley does is rake. He led the team qualifiers in BA (.300) and OBP (.364) and was second in OPS (.840). He has been everything the Astros wanted since he arrived from Cleveland after the 2018 season.
The “baby” pitchers. As mentioned above, 10 pitchers made their MLB debuts in 2020, while pitchers like Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy and the 32 y.o. Brooks Raley had less than a full season of experience before 2020. But they held it together, and some of them became high leverage dependable pitchers. Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA), Blake Taylor (2-1, 1 SV, 2.18 ERA), Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05 ERA) and Andre Scrubb (1-0, 1 SV, 1.90 ERA) were all thrust into the fire and stood up to it.
George Springer. George was solid in the regular season (.265 BA/ .899 OPS) with 14 HR and 32 RBIs and then was equally solid in the playoffs with 4 HRs and 10 RBIs. He will be the subject of much discussion and obviously a blog post or two in the weeks to come as he faces his first shot at free agency.
Jose Altuve. After the worst season of his career, Jose bounced back in the playoffs to be a hitting scourge, especially against the A’s (.400 BA/ 1.326 OPS/ 2 HRs/ 5 RBIs) and the Rays (.462 BA/ 1.447 OPS/ 3 HRs/ 5 RBIs). And in the Ray series, he came back from disastrous errors in games 2 and 3 to help lead the Astros’ comeback in games 4 through 6.
Jose Urquidy. Urquidy came back from (rumored) COVID-19 to grab a spot in the rotation down the stretch and into the playoffs. He had done well in a cameo in 2019 and showed well again in a partial 2020 appearance.
Lance and Zack. Lance McCullers and Zack Greinke kept the rotation together. They were both a little up and down (Zack – 3-3, 4.03 ERA), (Lance – 3-3, 3.93 ERA) but they showed up for 23 of the Astros 60 starts and that was critical in a season of injuries and illness and disarray.
Martin Maldonado. His BA (.212) was no great shakes, but for a catcher, his .350 OBP/ .727 OPS/ 6 HRs/ 24 RBIs were good. But that did not matter much. His ability to handle 26 different pitchers in a 60 game season and to nursemaid all the youngsters was a wonder. Next to Strom, he was the most critical component for a piecemeal pitching staff.
Gary Pettis. 3B coach Pettis went down with cancer towards the end of the season, but he was an inspiration to the team as he came back to watch them in the ALCS. All of God’s blessings on Gary Pettis and his family.
Well, there are some major highlights from this writer on the year. What about you?