The Astros are on the cusp of winning more than 100 games for the third straight season. If they go 6-5 or better they will increase their win total again for the third straight season and will for the second year in a row set a team record for wins. If they keep working they should in a few days capture the AL West for the third time in three years and if they are rip-roaring good in the next 11 games they have a shot at having the best record in the AL and all of baseball.
But none of those tie to the question of the day. The question is: Is this team headed for ultimate glory like the World Champion Astros of 2017 or are they going to come up just a bit short, like the 2018 Astros, who fell out of the playoffs in the ALCS against the eventual champions the Boston Red Sox?
This could be, but will not be a long statistical argument about the pluses and minuses of each of those teams, but instead, it will be a quick summary of each of the seasons.
2017. The Astros rolled to the lead early in the season and piled things on the opposition. They hit the All Star break 31 games over .500 and with a 16.5 game lead. They were the best offensive team in the majors by far, leading in almost every stat that is kept. They survived a series of injuries to most of the pitching staff (Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers), and some of their hitting stars (Carlos Correa and George Springer). They also survived a bit of August malaise after making no big pitching addition at the regular trade deadline. The addition of Justin Verlander at the waiver trade deadline energized the team, the injured all returned with the exception of Jake Marisnick and the rest is history. They walked one of the toughest paths to the championship through the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers and often were a play or two from possible elimination. But they never gave up and ultimately prevailed.
2018. Even though this team ended up with more wins than in 2017, it was a much tougher row to hoe as the Mariners early and the A’s late challenged the Astros for most of the season. The Astros were tied with the A’s in late August and they really did not put the division away until the last week of the season. This was a much more pitcher oriented team as they had a good, but not great offense led by the transcendent Alex Bregman, and relied heavily on Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Morton, Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly and company for carrying this team to the playoffs. Unlike in 2017 they entered the playoffs with many walking wounded. Players like McCullers, Springer, Correa, and Jose Altuve attempted to play through their injury problems, but their performances lagged and in a series that again hinged on a few plays, all the big ones including the umpire calls went the Red Sox way.
Today – 2019 – This year’s team is kind of a hybrid of the last two seasons. They got off to a decent but not killer start and slowly pulled out to a decent lead, but have never really been able to throttle back. They have a strong offense like 2017 and if they could only keep all hands on deck, it could be an even better one than 2017. Of course, that team seemed to be better with runners in scoring position and in flipping a game from a loss to a win late in the game. The Astros battled through a ton of extended injuries for some of their best players (Carlos Correa, George Springer and Jose Altuve), but they also added All Star Michael Brantley, saw Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman kick it in gear in the second half of the season and added All-Universe rookie Yordan Alvarez to the lineup. Again the pitching staff has been led by Verlander and Cole with a lot of help (except for a lost couple weeks) from Wade Miley. With injury problems for Brad Peacock and McHugh hurting their depth, the Astros went out and picked up six-time All Star Zack Greinke to solidify the rotation. The bullpen has been good, except when it hasn’t been and may have more questions heading into the postseason with Pressly and Peacock returning late from injuries and McHugh not likely returning at all.
The key to this year’s postseason success will likely turn on their ability to:
a) Hit better in the clutch and not just when the game has become a laugher and;
b) Not suffer contagious bullpen meltdowns when the throats are as tight as the games
So, your turn. How do you compare this team to the last two and which one do you think it will more closely track?