2017 playoffs: How each Astro helped win the whole enchilada

When a team somehow winds its way through the many land mines of three playoff series to win the ultimate prize it is easy to fixate on the few big heroes. But the Astros win was more than an Altuve, Correa, Springer, Verlander production. Here is a look at how each Astro helped the team grab the ultimate prize.

Brian McCannMcCann was well below average hitting in the playoffs with only 1 HR and 7 RBIs in 17 games and a .175 BA/ .277 OBP/ .593 OPS slash. But he had a very important role as he was the rock that the pitching staff clung to throughout the playoffs. He also did have some critical ABs, none bigger than in WS Game 5, with an eighth inning homer followed by a 10th inning HBP that led to Alex Bregman’s walkoff single scoring Derek Fisher in their classic 13-12 win.

Yuli GurrielGurriel had an impactful playoffs. The Red Sox could not keep him off the base paths (9 for 17) and though that resulted in only 1 run scored and 0 RBIs, it helped turn over the lineup. In the WS he only had 6 hits in 7 games, but he had two huge HRs, starting the assault on Yu Darvish in Game 3 with his second inning HR and hitting a psychologically huge three-run homer against Clayton Kershaw to tie the fifth game at 4-4, but also showing that Kershaw was vulnerable.

Jose AltuveWhile George Springer was the WS MVP, the MVP of the overall playoffs was Altuve. His 14 runs scored, seven HRs and 14 RBIs with a .310/.388/1.021 slash led the way for the Astros. He set the tone against the Red Sox with three HRs in the first game, came up big in Games 6 and 7 against the Yankees and though he slumped against the Dodgers, he still had huge HRs in both the Game 2 and Game 5 classics.

Carlos CorreaCarlos was a solid performer in the playoffs with 10 runs, 5 HRs and 14 RBIs and a .288/.325/.886 slash. He had a big four RBI performance in Game 2 against the Red Sox, but was super critical against the Yankees as he was involved in all four runs scored in the Astros duplicate 2-1 wins in Games 1 and 2. Oh and like Jose, he had huge HRs in both the Classic Games 2 and 5 against the Dodgers.

Alex Bregman. A glance at Alex’s slash numbers during the playoffs (.208 BA/ .256 OBP/.657 OPS) would lead you to believe he was pretty meh in those extra games. That would be completely wrong as he scored 11 runs, hit 4 HRs, and knocked in 10 runs with his 15 hits. He played super defense at third base, including gunning down runners at the plate. He had two huge HRs against Chris Sale in the first and fourth games of the Boston series and knocked in runs in 5 straight WS games including the game winner in Game 5.

Marwin GonzalezThe Astros’ regular season RBI leader was bad in the playoffs with a .180/.275/.570 slash. But he had arguably the biggest hit of the WS as his 9th inning game tying HR against Kenley Jansen in Game 2 saved the Astros from the brink of a 2-0 deficit. Without that HR, the Astros may not be World Champs.

George Springer. Springer’s playoffs were the story of two George’s – the Great George (.412/.474/1.180 against BOS and .379/.471/1.471 against LAD) and the Putrid George .115/.233/.349 against the Yanks. He set WS records for total bases and home runs in five games and of course hit the game winner in Game 2. And of course he was named the WS MVP.

Josh ReddickJosh had a good series against the Red Sox (.375/.444/.819) and then forgot how to hit, going 1 for 25 against the Yanks and 4 for 24 against the Dodgers. Maybe it was bad karma from his celebration “outfit”. His big clutch moment was his eighth inning single against Craig Kimbrell in the deciding game of the Boston series to give the Astros a 4-3 lead.

Carlos BeltranAfter a great career, Beltran had become mostly a liability in his last season with the Astros as a DH. By the time the playoffs came around, he was a minimal part-time DH who had three hits in 20 ABs. But…..one of those hits ended up plating the winning round in the deciding game against the Red Sox as he went the other way and lined a double off the Green Monster.

Evan GattisGattis had a fairly quiet post season with McCann doing most of the catching and Evan again not hitting that well as a DH. However, the only hit he had in the Yankee series was the HR that got them rolling to a seventh game win against the Pinstripers.

Derek Fisher. Fisher officially had no ABs in the postseason, walking in his one plate appearance in the Yankee series. But no Astro fan will ever forget him pinch running for Brian McCann and scoring the walk off winning run in the fifth game of the World Series.

Cameron MaybinThe “other” guy picked up at the end of August by the Astros had little exposure in the playoffs as mostly a late inning replacement and/or pinch runner. But he had a couple special moments in the playoffs. First he pinch ran for Evan Gattis and scored the go ahead run on Reddick’s single during the Astros eighth inning rally in the fourth game against the Red Sox. Then in the eleventh inning of Game 2 of the WS, he led off with a single, stole second and scored on George Springer’s huge game winning homer.

Juan CentenoYes the third catcher only had one unsuccessful AB in the post season, but….. it is likely that his presence on the roster gave A.J. Hinch the guts to pinch run for Brian McCann with Fisher, who scored the winning run in the WS Game 5 win.

Dallas KeuchelIt would be easy to let his last game, a short 3.2 IP, 4 runs 3 ER appearance in the 13-12 Game 5 win be the lasting memory of Keuchel in the playoffs. But he pitched very well in wins over both the Red Sox and the Yanks and his game 1 loss to the Dodgers was well pitched except for the two gopher balls he allowed.

Justin VerlanderEven though JV pitched very well in the postseason, it is hard to remember that he did not win a WS game. After beating the Red Sox as a Game 1 starter and a Game 4 reliever and then holding the Yanks to one run in 16 innings in a Game 2 and Game 6 win, he ran into bad luck as his six inning 3 run and six inning two-run outings ended up as a no decision and a loss respectively.

Charlie MortonHe was the man who was on the mound when the Astros put the demons behind them in the 7th game of the World Series. But did you remember that he started the deciding games against Boston and New York? He held it together despite giving up seven hits and two walks in 4.1 IP against Boston and allowed the team to stay close and eventually win that one. He also won the seventh game against NYY with five shutout innings. It is true he got bombed before that in Game 4 against the Yanks (which makes game 7 more impressive), but he also threw 6.1 great innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the WS.

Lance McCullers Jr. He was last seen being pulled after 2.1 IP in Game 7 of the WS due to hitting four batters more than anything. But he also won Game 3 of the WS and was most notable for being the tandem reliever clinching a spot in the WS with four innings of one hit ball against the Yanks.

Brad PeacockHe was used seven times in the playoffs, the first time in an unsuccessful start against the Red Sox, but thereafter as an important piece out of the bullpen. His two best moments were…. first a 3.2 IP scoreless save in Game 3 of the WS. Then a solid two scoreless innings in the clinching Game 7 of the WS.

Ken GilesHe was falling apart so badly that he was not used after Game 4 of the WS, though there was certainly a need for help in the bullpen. But he did have his moments in the playoffs, including two saves against the Red Sox that were both more than one inning long.

Colin McHugh. He slid from the starting rotation to a bullpen piece that was only used twice in the playoffs. The three-run homer he gave up to Cody Bellinger immediately after Gurriel’s HR had tied it in the marathon Game 5 of the WS will always be remembered. But he also helped immensely against the Yanks with a four-inning stint in a lost game that saved the rest of the bullpen for another day.

Will HarrisHe was used six times for only four innings of work during the playoffs with mixed success (like most of the bullpen). His best moment had to be throwing a scoreless seventh inning in the 7-6 Game 2 win over the Dodgers.

Joe MusgroveOh, Joe…. we hardly knew ye. He will be missed with this team in the future. During the playoffs he was used seven times and put up a none too consoling 8.10 ERA. However, he threw a scoreless eighth in Game 2 of the WS and another scoreless 11th inning in winning the marathon Game 5.

Chris DevenskiHe ended up with a 9.00 playoff ERA, but that might have been due to having him pitch in 10 of the 18 post season games (and likely warming up in a few more). He may be remembered for blowing the three-run lead in the WS Game 5, but he also had some good moments in a number of games, including coming out in the Game 7 clincher and getting a big out with two runners on base. He also earned the win in the Game 2 WS classic.

Luke GregersonHe was not used that much (3.2 IP in 5 postseason appearances) but Gregerson had a clean record in the playoffs. He gave up no runs and he did not allow any of the four runners he inherited to score. Folks will not remember it that way, but it was true.

Francisco LirianoHe had one bad appearance in the playoffs as he gave up a go-ahead 2 run HR in a game 3 loss to the Red Sox. But he came out of the bullpen four other times, faced 7 batters and gave up a single walk and that included the first game win vs. Boston and the last game win vs. LA.

So, there you go a synopsis of the big heroes, the quiet heroes and the almost invisible contributors. How does this match your memories?

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Astros’ best of the best: Let the second base debate begin

The Best of the Best series continue today with a conundrum of sorts. Enjoy the conversation and debate, but please remember to not just ahead. Here are the best we’ve already discussed:

Today: Second base.

Yes, I know that Jose Altuve just won an MVP. Yes, I am aware that he has a few batting titles under his belt. Yes, I’ve also been told that he’s led the league in hits four times and is quickly becoming the face of the Astros’ organization after a World Series win.

Yes, I know that Biggio never won a World Series, had 200 hits only once, was an All Star seven times (Altuve only 5). I also know he has a few points on his resume that Altuve does not, namely 3,000 hits and a place in the Hall of Fame.

Altuve has had better seasons, even in his shorter career. He has a better eye at the plate than Biggio (and that’s saying a lot). And he can challenge Biggio in the eyes of fans and with that infectious smile.

And, yes, you can argue that Altuve will one day ascend to the perch as the greatest second baseman in Astros’ history. But, today, in a snapshot in time in January 2018, that place goes to Biggio.

And, I thought at one point in time, Houston would never see a better second baseman than Bill Doran.

Here’s my list of the best second basemen in Astros’ history.

  1. Craig Biggio. 1988-2007. He’s in the top 3 on most every important stat list, good or bad, in Astros’ history. He’s played in more games (2,850), had more at bats (10,876), scored more runs (1,844), had more hits (3,060), doubles (668), total bases (4,711), strikeouts (1,753), extra base hits (1,014), singles (2,046) and, of course, HBP (265) than any other player in history. He’s second in RBI, walks and stolen bases. Quite the resume, warranting his top spot as the best all-time second baseman (to date) in Astros’ history.
  2. Jose Altuve. 2011-present. Yes, Altuve is beginning to crash Biggio’s party with his All Star selections, hit parade and batting titles. But if he retired or was traded today, he would still be #2 all time. If you want to compare Biggio’s first six seasons with Altuve’s first six, yes, Altuve is clearly in control. If he maintains or evens comes close to spending 12-15 seasons in the majors, he’ll surpass Biggio at his current pace. The next question is this: How would you rate Altuve vs. Biggio if he is traded or leaves as a free agent in a few years?
  3. Joe Morgan. 1963-71. Most people don’t realize that Morgan actually spent more time in a Houston uniform (10) than that of any other team, including the Reds. And, he actually played more games at second than has Altuve (thus far). Now, imagine if Morgan had played most of and finished his career in Houston. What a discussion this might have been then! You may be surprised to learn that Morgan is actually on many of the top 10 lists of all-time Astros’ offensive leaders, including runs scored (597, 10th), triples (63, 2nd), OBP (.374, 6th), walks (678, 6th) and stolen bases (219, 5th).
  4. Bill Doran. 1982-1990. Doran was the prototype second baseman: tough, hard-playing and turning in dirty jersies regularly. He didn’t win an MVP and played in the Ryan Sandberg era so there were no All Star appearances. He was obviously very serviceable, but doesn’t rank with three hall of fame second basemen.
  5. Jeff Kent. 2003-04. Yes, Kent spent only two seasons in Houston, but he had a big impact. And, yes, he forced Biggio into the outfield for a couple of seasons. While he spent only two seasons in an Astros’ uni, he did hit 49 home runs with 200 RBI while slashing .293/.350/.521 with an .880 OPS. You can argue that another player more aptly fits here and I’ll let you make that argument.

Honorable mention: Tommy Helms, Casey Candaele, Jeff Keppinger and a tip of the hat to Nellie Fox.

Questions…

  • Did you realize Morgan had those numbers in Houston?
  • Is Altuve already the best second baseman in Astros’ history?
  • Should Morgan actually be ahead of Altuve at this point since he played more games at 2B in Houston?
  • What makes Biggio better than Altuve? Or vice versa?

Astros’ questions in a still-active hot stove winter

Remember when fans and media talked of Astros’ moves as just shuffling chairs on the Titanic? Not anymore! Now, other teams like the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers are looking on in disbelief as the World Champion team has arguably improved in the offseason after its best season in history.

But are the Houston Astros done? Will Jeff Luhnow strike another move to boldly put a stamp on 2018 before the season even begins? Is there really anywhere the team can still make significant improvement?

As many of you have noted, the winter off-season is slow when you consider the number of free agents still on the market, teams looking for pitching and other teams rumored to be trying to trade pieces. There is still action to come. The only question for south Texas fans is will that action involve the Astros?

Here are a few questions to help stoke your conversation.

Could a Yu Darvish still actually fall in the Astros’ lap?

Yeah, this one seems like a long shot after adding Gerrit Cole. But imagine a rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Cole, Charlie Morton…and Darvish. Some teams would just cry “uncle” and say let’s skip on to 2019! Certainly, Darvish’s asking price appears to be dropping significantly and if it does drop into the $80 million range, why not complete the assembly of a Dream Rotation?

How about this trade? Collin McHugh and a prospect for Domingo Santana?

Many fans lamented the original Santana trade that brought Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez to Houston in 2015. Now, he may be available in an overstocked Brewers’ outfield. You could see Santana in an Astros’ lineup in various ways: DH, left field, right field. That would keep both Evan Gattis and Brian McCann healthy and rested and provide some crazy depth in the outfield. And he’s under team control through 2021. Whether it’s Santana or someone else, McHugh does seem to be on the bubble and available, at least as far as the roster shapes up.

Free agent acquisition more your taste? Maybe Jonathan Lucroy?

There are still a bevy of free agent choices on the board. One mentioned earlier in the off-season is a catching possibility. The right-handed hitting Lucroy would augment the lefty McCann and be a powerful 1-2 punch behind the plate. Plus, it could provide the backup plan for when McCann leaves in free agency after this season. Lucroy would relish playing in Houston since he’s a Ragin’ Cajun, playing on some of the best UL-Lafayette teams.  Jose Abreu, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie and J. T. Realmuto have also been rumored to be on the move at one time or another since the season ended. See any other possibilities on the list above?

Oh, and notice that rumors are that J.D. Martinez could be available for only 5 years/$100 million. Yes, it would be nice to have him back in left field or at DH.

Other questions for your consideration:

  • The luxury tax threshold for 2018 is $197 million. With a payroll that could easily jump to $170 million this season, how long will it be before Houston becomes the next team with a tax bill?
  • Who is more likely to be traded now: Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh?
  • The team now has three pitchers who have been opening day starters. Who should get the nod to start opening day 2018: Verlander, Keuchel or Cole?
  • Only four (count ’em 4) of the opening day, non-pitching starters from 2015 are still with the team. Can you name them? Better yet, without looking, can you name the other five? (NOTE: Only ONE opening day starter from 2014 is still with the team. ONE!)

World champion edition: What they said, what they meant

Today is a return to an oldie but goodie – What They Said, What They Meant. As always, an Astros related quote is posted followed by what they really meant to say.

GM Jeff Luhnow on the false report that the deal for Gerrit Cole was complete.

  • What he said. “We do not have a deal. We are working on multiple things but nothing is imminent.”
  • What he meant. “Until the Pirates remove two words from their vocabulary, Whitley and Tucker, there is no deal. Meanwhile I can piddle around with the Rays on Archer or talk to Darvish’s agent and wait on the Pirates front office out.”

Joe Musgrove in his sweet goodbye letter to the Astros and their fans.

Carlos Correa talking about proposing to his girlfriend on national TV after game 7.

  • What he said. “I was like OK, so we have a championship caliber team, so let me wait it out to see if we can be champions and do it at the big stage. So, we were able to win the game, which was the first part of my day to accomplish, and then I was able to do it.”
  • What he meant. “You know how young people feel invincible like nothing bad could happen to them. It never occurred to me that we were not going to win that game. I had no Plan B…..”

Jose Altuve on winning the AL MVP award.

  • What he said. “That’s what I love about baseball, that every single guy can play the game. There’s not a rule you have to be six feet tall to play baseball and become a good player.”
  • What he meant. “You may think that my height has been a challenge to me, but in truth it is the fuel that drives my engine. The chip on my shoulder about this is taller than I am…..”

A.J. Hinch about his team after winning the World Series.

  • What he said. “The players are really what makes the sport go. And the more you can get out of them, the more you can get them to trust in you, believe in you as a leader, the better you’ll be as a manager.  I’m not sure you know that right out of the chute when you first get one of these jobs. At least for me as a young guy, I didn’t appreciate what it took to put your heart and soul into the players and let them see you for who you are, and in return ask them to be themselves.”
  • What he meant. “I wasn’t a very good manager the first time around. I certainly didn’t have the talent with the D’Backs then as I do with the Astros now, but I also was not the leader I am now. I was not comfortable in my own skin and did not let the players know who I really was. That’s over now and I’m ready to dive in deep again in 2018.”

Jim Crane during the lead up to the Gerrit Cole trade.

  • What he said. “I’ve been told, on paper we have the best team in baseball, but paper doesn’t win titles.”
  • What he meant. “I understand how sports really work. I understand that keeping the status quo is equivalent to taking a step backwards when everyone else is improving. I loved the taste of winning and we are going for it again.”

Bonus quote. You get to interpret this tweet from Kate Upton to her new husband Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

  • What she tweeted. “Which is better: winning the #World Series2017 or a honeymoon with @KateUpton?”
  • What she meant. ?????

Astros’ best of the best: Can there be any other choice at first base?

The Astros have had a handful of mega star players over the past 50 years. In fact, before 2012 or so, the names synonymous with the organization were named Bagwell and Biggio. Now that Houston has won its first World Series with a bevy of up-and-coming superstars, the game has been joined.

That brings us to the Best of the Best series. We’ll cover every position and then some between now and opening day, so please register your thoughts, but stay on today’s position.

Today: First base.

  1. Jeff Bagwell.  1991-2005. On this, there is no argument. At all. With a career cut short because of nagging injuries, Bagwell turned in one of the best careers ever by a first baseman, Astro or otherwise. As an Astros’ hall of famer, he stands alone atop the list of first basemen in the organization’s history. He’s in the top 3 in virtually every Astros’ offensive career category. He’s second in games played, OPB, runs scored, hits and total bases and leads the organization in home runs (449) and RBI (1529) and walks (1401).
  2. Lance Berkman. 1999-2010. Yes, Berkman played the outfield for many years as he was blocked by Bagwell. As Bagwell’s skills diminished and ultimately led to his retirement, Berkman made the obvious move to first.  Berkman won’t be in the Hall of Fame, but you will find him at or near the top of the leaderboard of many Astros all-time stats.
  3. Glenn Davis. 1984-90. Before there was Bagwell, before there was Berkman, there was Glenn Davis. To that moment in time, he was the best the Astros had produced at first base. A career .262/.337/.483 slash — all in the Astrodome mind you — with 166 home runs, he was a former first round pick ultimately traded to the Orioles for Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling. Davis was a two-time All Star who finished second to Mike Schmidt in the 1986 NL MVP vote. He shows up 14 times on Top 10 lists for Houston, including home runs (166, 5th), slugging percentage (.483, 6th) and OPS (.819, 8th).
  4. Bob Watson. 1966-1979. Like Berkman, Watson bounced around the outfield and settled in at first base in the last few years of his career as an Astro. He was a two-time All Star for Houston. One of his big claims to fame is that he scored the 1,000,000th run in MLB and he later became the general manager of the Astros. He later served as GM of the Yankees and won a World Series in 1996. He was the last Yankees’ GM before Brian Cashman took over in 1998.
  5. Lee May. 1972-74. The big bopper made his mark in Houston in just three years, coming over to Houston in one of the biggest trades in the organization’s history. It’s the trade that sent Joe Morgan to the Big Red Machine and a Hall of Fame career. May is eighth on Houston’s list of AB/HR with a 20.9 figure.

Those are five of the best in Houston history.  Yuli Gurriel is signed through 2020. How many pennants and World Series would he need to put him on the list above?

  • What’s your best or favorite memory of Bagwell?
  • Does anyone remember Berkman’s catch on Tal’s Hill in centerfield?
  • Bagwell may be the best first baseman in Astros’ history. Who’s your favorite though?

Upon further review: Astros give up four players to get Cole

And, so it is to be. Gerrit Cole to the Astros is a reality after all. But the deal is lop-sided, with Houston giving up four players for the right hander.

Was Jeff Luhnow just playing the game by saying nothing is imminent earlier in the week, or did things fall apart and come back together suddenly? This is one of those deals we hope to have a behind-the-scenes back story leak out.

Read the story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And the story from Jake Kaplan in the Chronicle.

Cole will join Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. In return, Pittsburgh gets four players: Jason MartinColin Moran, Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove.

Still, the Astros avoided giving up two future pieces in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.

With the acquisition of another frontline starter, you should assume that other moves are coming as the depth chart gets deeper and deeper. For now, you have seven starters and 10 relievers on the Astros’ depth chart.

Cole agreed to a contract with the Pirates ($6.75 million) on Friday rather than go to arbitration.

Questions…

  • You may argue against a Keuchel trade (either now or later), but if Cole can bring this type of return, what would Keuchel bring back?
  • Which of the four players traded away will Houston miss in 2018?
  • Which of the four hurts the most in the long run?
  • If more trades are coming, which players are most likely to go?

Balancing act: To upgrade or not to upgrade (and where)?

Jon Morosi got everyone up in a tither on Wednesday when his announcement that the Astros had acquired Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh.

Since the story hit the fan, Morosi and others have indicated that the trade indeed was close, but hit a snag in the details. Alyson Footer even wondered out loud what may have happened in those last seconds before one of the teams got cold feet.

From Alyson Footer: “I’d love to know what suddenly came up that changed things so much. When I worked for the Astros I saw deals that were signed sealed and delivered only to see it squashed with a failed medical report. Or a team backs out at last millisecond with no warning. Crazy business.”

Whether it’s Cole or perhaps Yu Darvish, whose narrowed-down list includes Houston, or someone else, the Astros appear to be serious candidates for a rotation addition. What that means for the rest of the rotation (e.g. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock) remains to be seen, but a major addition could mean a shakeup.

The advancement toward a major move has Astros’ fans skiddish of the cost, especially in prized prospects, which has already taken a few hits over the past year or so. How many Whitleys or Tuckers or Fishers can the system afford to lose before the organization’s own feeder is diminished or even depleted?

Apparently, Houston was also in on Jay Bruce, considering the Fisher-to-Pittsburgh possibility may be close to happening.

Nonetheless, fans, speculators and even uninterested onlookers are also wondering if the rotation is the place for a major off-season upgrade. Yes, the bullpen has been addressed, but is the remake complete?

Left field is still a question, there are concerns about DH and backup catcher and many wonder if Ken Giles is still the answer to the long-term closer question. Who is the next Alex Bregman to manifest from the minor league system? Is Brian McCann the next Carlos Beltran, reaching his age limit?

Easy questions today:

  • What is your biggest concern facing the Astros in 2018?
  • If you have one major move left before the season starts, what/who do you add?
  • From your vantage point, why are the Astros so determined to add another quality starter? Does this portend other moves?
  • For some of the more advanced followers: How do you rate the minors? That is, how many sure-fire prospects does Houston have in the Top 30?