Astros’ top 10 teams of all time: Part 2

Here is a continuation of the top Astro teams of all time as we look at #5 on up to #1.

Again, in putting this list together, there were considerations to both the regular season and post-season performance of these teams. There was also some consideration of precedent too. The 1980 team won less than some of the teams below it on the list, but it went where no Astros team before it had gone, to the playoffs.

And of course this allows for lots of debate. So, without further ado – the Astros top 5 teams of all time.

#5 – 1986 – The team was the second best team in the NL at 96-66 behind the squad that eventually vanquished them – the 108 win NY Mets. The Astros clinched their division in a glorious 3 game period in late September, when Jim Deshaies 2 hit the Dodgers, Nolan Ryan and Charlie Kerfeld combined on a 2 hitter against the Giants followed by Mike Scott‘s pennant-clinching no-no against those same Giants. The playoff series against the Mets was classic, yet heartbreaking for the Astros. Mike Scott got them off to a 1-0 whitewash, but then the Astros lost the next two including a heartbreaker in Game 3, where they blew a 4 run lead in the 6th, regained a one-run lead headed to the bottom of the 9th and then saw Dave Smith give up a walk-off game-winning dinger to Lenny Dykstra. Scott evened the series in Game 4 and then the Astros lost Game 5 in 12 innings 2-1 in a game that was tied from the 5th inning onward. Game 6 with Mike Scott waiting in the wings for a Game 7 that never came was the definition of a Bridge Too Far. The Astros took a 3-0 lead into the 9th and lost that, traded runs in the 14th as Billy Hatcher hit the most dramatic HR in history up to that point. But the Mets broke through for 3 in the 16th and the Astros could only put up 2 in the bottom and left the bases loaded and one of the best teams the Astros ever had went home.

Top Everyday – Glenn Davis – .265 BA/.344 OBP/ .837 OPS/ 91 Rs/ 31 HRs/ 101 RBIs

Top Pitcher – Mike Scott – 18-10 and a 2.22 ERA and the Cy Young

#4 – 1980 – The Astros (93-70) had the best record in the NL and squeaked into the playoffs after beating the Dodgers in a one-game playoff (necessitated by losing 3 straight to the Dodgers to end the season). The Astros – Phillies match-up was a classic five-game series where the last four were decided in extra innings. After the Phillies won the first game, the Astros won the second game on a 4 run rally in the 10th (7-4) and the third game in a 1-0 Joe Niekro/ Dave Smith shutout decided in the 11th by a Joe Morgan triple and a Denny Walling Sac Fly. They needed one more win at home out of the last two games to go to the World Series. It never happened. The Astros took a 2 run lead into the 8th and the Phils scored three in Game 4. The Astros tied it, but the Phils scored 2 more in the 10th to win game four. In the 5th game they took a 3 run lead into the 8th with Nolan Ryan pitching. In a rally reminiscent of the Royals in 2015, the Phillies scored five. The Astros tied it in the bottom of the 8th, but the Phillies won the game and the series in the 10th. It was crying time in Houston….at least for me.

Top Everyday – Jose Cruz (.302 BA/ .360 OBP/ .787 OPS/ 79 Rs / 11 HRs/ 91 RBIs/ 36 SBs) nudges out Cesar Cedeno (.309/.384/.854/ 71 Rs/ 10 HRs/ 73 RBIs/ 48 SBs) in a much different offensive time.

Top Pitcher – Vern Ruhle in a Brad Peacock role was 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA. We were left to wonder about how this season and the playoffs would have gone if not for the stroke that struck down J.R. Richard (10-4, 1.90 ERA) at the end of July.

#3 – 2018 – The defending World Series champs switched horses and rode All-World pitching and above average hitting after doing the opposite in 2017 to a club record 103- 59 record. After easily sweeping the Indians, the Astros seemed set to go to their second consecutive World Series, but they got tripped up by the Red Sox. After solidly beating the Sox in Game 1, Game 2 turned on a bases loaded double by Jackie Bradley, who also put away Game 3 with a bases loaded home run. Game 4 was the series really as Jose Altuve‘s tying home run was disallowed due to fan interference and the Astros spent the rest of the game a) not stopping the Red Sox from scoring and b) leaving too many guys on base. The Astros went home after Game 5 when JV gave up a solo home run to JD Martinez (one pitch after a strikeout was not called) and a pop-up Crawford Box 3 run HR to Rafael Devers. The Astros made David Price look like Verlander in this game and they slunk away after a great season and a disappointing playoff run.

Top Everyday – Alex Bregman – .286 BA/ .394 OBP/ .926 OPS/ 105 Rs/ 51 Dbls/ 31 HRs / 103 RBIs led the Astro hitters in most categories.

Top Pitcher – Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA, 200.1 IP, 12.4 K/9 IP) was great. Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA, 214 IP, 0.902 WHIP) was greater.

#2 – 2005 Astros – Despite a so-so looking 89-73 record in the regular season, the story of the Astros’ season was how they were 22-35 on June 8th and 15th out of 16 in the National League. They then rode a huge wave of a 67-38 record the rest of the way to grab the fourth playoff spot in the NL and knocked off the Braves in the NLCS in the epic 7-6, 18 inning game in the NLDS and then the Cardinals in the NLCS. Would the World Series sweep by the White Sox have turned out differently if Roy Oswalt did not have to close out the NLCS after Albert Pujols‘ legendary game 5 blast off Brad Lidge? Maybe.

Top Everyday – Morgan Ensberg (86 Runs/ 36 HR/ 101 RBIs). If Lance Berkman had not missed 30 games he probably would have the honor.

Top Pitcher – I mis-remembered if this should be Roger Clemens (13-8. 1.87 ERA) or Andy Pettitte (17-9, 2.39 ERA).

#1 – 2017 Astros – They did not quite win the most regular season games in Astros history, but who the heck cares? They won 101 regular season games despite having to work through injuries to the pitching staff and to Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Collin McHugh and Carlos Correa. They fought tooth and nail to get past the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers in succession to bring home the Astros first championship. This team was never out of a game or a series, battling back to win game four against the Red Sox, battling out of a 3-2 hole to the Yankees with two clutch wins at home and then winning two of the greatest battles in World Series history in Games 2 and 5 against the Dodgers. Compared to those two games from a baseball sense, the Game 7 win was anticlimactic, but not really to the fans who witnessed what fans of the previous 55 seasons had never witnessed.

Top Everyday – Jose Altuve – AL MVP – .346 BA / .410 OBP / .957 OPS / 112 runs scored

Top Pitcher – Justin Verlander – 5-0 in the month of September with a 1.06 ERA after the trade and a 4-1 record in the postseason

Your turn. How do you think this top 10 should be laid out?

https://chipalatta.com/2018/12/12/astros-top-10-teams-of-all-time-part-1/

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Astros top 10 teams of all time: Part 1

If you are thinking this is the type of post, Dan P does when he is bored writing about an off-season that is moving slower than a soap opera plot…..you would be right.

In putting this list together, there were considerations to both the regular season and post-season performance of these teams. There was also some consideration of precedent too. Did a particular team do something no other team before it in Astros history had done?

And of course, this allows for lots of debate. So, without further ado – the Astros top 6 thru 10 teams of all time.

#10  2015 Astros. An 86-76 record does not seem that impressive and truthfully would not make the playoffs in most seasons. But this season taken in context was a huge step on the way to the 2017 WS Championship. The 2015 team was 16 games improved over the 2014 team, which was 19 games improved over the 51-111 2013 team. After the only three 100+ loss seasons in the history of the team, this season with its play-in win over the Yankees on the road and the oh-so-close loss to the eventual World Champion KC Royals allowed the team to breathe in the fresh air of success and to imagine what was to come in another two seasons.

Top Everyday Player. This is Jose Altuve, though Carlos Correa in only 99 games came close to eclipsing his DP mate. Altuve put up .313 BA / .353 OBP / .812 OPS / 86 runs / 15 HRs / 40 Dbls / 66 RBIs and led his team into the playoffs.

Top Pitcher. Mr. Cy Young, Dallas Keuchel was brilliant this season – his 20-8 record with a 2.48 ERA over 232 innings was just excellent.

#9  2001 Astros. After a crash and burn (72-90) in their first season in “Ten Run” Field, Larry Dierker led this team to a 93-69 record the next season and their 4th playoff appearance in 5 seasons. Unfortunately, the Astros lost another first round series in an Atlanta Braves sweep and Dierk was gone to never manage another game in the majors.

Top Everyday Player. Tie between Jeff Bagwell (.288 BA/ .397 OBP / .966 OPS / 126 runs / 39 HRs / 130 RBIs) and Lance Berkman (.330/.431/1.051/110 runs / 34 HRs/126 RBIs)

Top Pitcher. Runner-up Rookie of the Year candidate Roy Oswalt hit the ground running with a 14-3 record and a 2.73 ERA after debuting on May 6th.

#8  1999 Astros. The Astros went 97-65 in their last season in the Astrodome, a season that included the scary collapse of Larry Dierker in the dugout with a grand mal seizure in June. He would miss 27 games (managed by Matt Galante) while recovering from brain surgery. The Astros would win the first game of the NLDS and then lose the next three games to Atlanta, including a 12 inning heart breaker where they loaded the bases with no outs in the 10th and had two runners forced at home including the Walt Weiss miracle play that turned them back.

Top Everyday Player. Jeff Bagwell was a monster in the regular season (.304 BA / .454 OBP / 1.045 OPS / 143 runs / 42 HRs/ 126 RBIs) for H-Town.

Top Pitcher. Mike Hampton was the ace with a 22-4 record and a 2.90 ERA, which got him traded to the Mets after the season leading into his last year before free agency. Billy Wagner and his 4-1 record, 39 saves, 1.57 ERA and unbelievable 14.9 Ks/9 IP over 74.2 IP would be an acceptable answer here, also.

#7  2004 Astros. The Astros were 92-70 during the regular season, but the most important facet to this season was that it marked the first time in their (then) 43 year history where they won a playoff series. They took out the Braves in the NLDS behind Roy Oswalt in a series that went to five games. Against the Cards in the NLCS – they battled back from a 2-0 deficit to take a series lead 3-2 on Jeff Kent‘s 3 run walk-off HR and then lost twice on the road thanks to a 12th inning Jim Edmonds dinger in game six and a big Scott Rolen 2 run homer to break a tie against Roger Clemens in Game 7. This was the playoffs where Carlos Beltran did everything but levitate with 8 HRs in 12 games a BA over .400 and an OPS over 1.500.

Top Everyday Player. The Big Puma Lance Berkman (.316 BA/ .450 OBP/ 1.016 OPS/ 104 runs/ 30 HRs/ 106 RBIs) was a tad better than Kent and the last real hurrahs of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

Top Pitcher. At 41 years old, Clemens toted up an 18-4 record with a 2.98 ERA beating out 20 game winner Oswalt.

#6  1998 Astros. This team gets brownie points for putting up a then-record 102 wins during the regular season. But they miss the Top 5 due to another early failure in the playoffs, falling 3-1 to the Padres in the NLDS, when they scored one run in each of the three losses. The trade deadline addition of Randy Johnson had a similar effect as that of Justin Verlander almost 20 years later….in the regular season. But the Astros fell short at the hands of Kevin Brown, Sterling Hitchcock and Jim Leyritz.

Top Everyday Player. Tie between Moises Alou (.312 BA/ .399 OBP/ .981 OPS / 104 runs / 38 HRs / 124 RBIs) and Jeff Bagwell (.304 BA / .424 OBP / .981 OPS/ 124 runs/ 34 HRs/ 111 RBIs).

Top Pitcher. The Big Unit was a ridiculous 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA after arriving in Houston on July 31st.

I know its hard to judge this without seeing the top 5 seasons, but as a hint the seasons that did not make either list included 1994 (strike shortened 66-49), 1981 (strike shortened 61-49), 1997 (84-78, but a playoff year), and 1979 (89-73, lost a 10.5 game lead in the 2nd half of the season over the Reds).

So how do you feel about this list?

Would you move any out for one of the ones that didn’t make the list?

Do you think any of these were top 5 caliber in the Astros’ history?

Eventful or anti-climactic? Astros head to the winter meetings

The last time the Astros went to the World Series…..boy, does that sound like an arrogant lead-in. Grey Poupon should be served with that statement. Maybe the nicer way of putting this is, “The second time in the Astros’ 57 season history that they went to the World Series and the first time they won it, the team made their big moves before the 2016 winter meetings.”  Nori Aoki was picked up off waivers in early November, they signed Charlie Morton on the 16th of the month, traded for Brian McCann the day after, signed Josh Reddick a week later and then picked up Carlos Beltran on the 5th of December.

Now, after winning the whole enchilada in 2017, the Astros off-season add-on moves did not really happen until the Winter Meetings a year ago. They had a real need for bullpen assistance after the melt-downs of the 2017 playoff run and so they picked up Joe Smith on Dec. 13th and Hector Rondon on Dec. 15th. This was overshadowed by the huge trade on Jan. 13 for Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. But basically, the Astros did not make any moves of significance until the Winter Meetings.

Which leads us to this year and the 2018 Winter Meetings which begin today, Dec. 9th. The Astros in this off-season have made two mid-ish moves before the meetings in trading for utility man Aledmys Diaz (can we call him Al – because I keep having to re-look up his name every time I type it) and signing free agent catcher Robinson Chirinos.

To most interested parties (e.g. fans), it is obvious the Astros should be planning on making more moves and the sooner the better (from our point of view). We would like Chirinos to be a second-string catcher behind someone better they pick up soon. We would like another Morton or Cole-like move for the rotation. And we would like to see a big bat added to the outfield.

Of course, Jeff Luhnow works in a world where he will make moves, if any, on his own timetable. He will look at the value of who they want and the value of what it will take. He will look at how the market is shaking out and whether waiting a bit may bring the costs down. He will be looking at whether certain moves may block someone they like a lot. He may also decide that his best value may be to wait on certain moves – maybe even wait until the trade deadline.

So, do you think anything will happen during the Winter Meetings and what should it be?

Can the 2019 Astros actually improve over the 2018 version?

Every generation normally shares one wish for their children. They wish that the next generation has it better than they had it.

In the realm of baseball, season to season, this is a wish that is difficult, if not impossible to fulfill over time. In fact, it is not always clear whether it has occurred. Were the 2018 Astros better than the 2017 Astros? Over the regular season – Yes. Over the vitally important post-season – No.

At this point in the Astros development, a point where they put together the two best seasons back to back in team history, what are they trying to do? It would be easy to say their goal is to create a team that wins the World Series, but what does that even mean? Do they build a team that they believe is even better during the regular season than in 2018 and hope that translates into a better postseason result? Do they try to build one to specifically address failings they’ve identified in the 2018 post-season version of the team? Do they go into 2019 with some question marks in the lineup or the rotation or the bullpen and then address the questions that are not answered before the trade deadline?

Here are some thoughts about the way forward here……

Starting Pitching

It would be darn near impossible for the Astros to maintain what their rotation did in 2018. The starting rotation was 1st or 2nd in the majors in wins, ERA, WHIP, Ks, IPs, Batting average against, OBP against, and OPS against. The five starters coming out of spring training, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. started 152 out of 162 games for the Astros. Note… in their World Series year the 5 pitchers who started the most games, only started 119 of the 162 games. Now add-on the fact that McCullers will not pitch this season, Keuchel is very, very likely elsewhere and that Charlie Morton is a question mark for ultimate destination and it is very difficult to see starting pitching as a possible area of improvement.

In 2018, Verlander and Cole were in the Top 5 in starting pitchers in the AL with Morton in the Top 10 and Keuchel in the Top 20. Can JV and Cole repeat their spectacular 2018’s? Can the Astros fill in adequately behind Morton (if necessary) and McCullers and Keuchel? If they find the free agent costs for pitchers and the prospect costs for trading for pitchers too steep, do they stay with internal choices like Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Josh James? Do they wait for the trade deadline and chase their next Verlander?

The gut feeling is that the best that may happen here is that the Astros have a rotation that is 90 – 95% as effective as they were in 2018, resulting in a top 5 instead of a top 2 rotation.

Bullpen

The Astros bullpen had the best ERA in the majors (3.03) which was .34 better than the next best team, the A’s. However, in the area of save % they were a pedestrian 68.66%, which was a middle of the pack 12th in the major leagues.

It is not likely that they will improve much on that bullpen ERA, but it is possible, especially with the addition of Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna in the back-end of the bullpen that they can improve on that save percentage.

A wild card here is who will be pulled from the bullpen to the starting rotation and whether the Astros go grab more bullpen help before the season or not. Without adding any more help and assuming that McHugh, Peacock and James fill the rotation, an eight-man bullpen could look like this – Pressly, Osuna, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Framber Valdez (or Cionel Perez) and Dean Deetz.

Bullpen production is generally unreliable year to year and tough to predict. The Astros would be lucky to produce at the same high level in 2019 as in 2018.

Every Days – Offense

If there is going to be real improvement in 2019 over 2018, this is going to have to be the area that leads the way. In 2018 the Astros were a decent, but inconsistent offensive team after being the very best team in 2017. The keys here are pretty simple:

  • Carlos Correa needs to be a lot more 2017 CC (Top of the heap SS – .315 BA/ .391 OBP/ .941 OPS / 24 HRs/ 84 RBIs ) than injured 2018 CC (Middle of the road offensive SS – .239 BA/ .323 OBP/ .728 OPS/ 15 HRs/ 65 RBIs)
  • Josh Reddick needs to come back from his worst offensive season (.242 BA/ .318 OBP/ .718 OPS / 47 RBIs) to get back nearer his best one (.314/.363/.847/ 82 RBIs)
  • The catcher spot between Brian McCann, Max Stassi and Martin Maldonado was very below average on the offensive side. Robinson Chirinos may assist in this, but the fans are hoping for him to be a backup behind J.T. Realmuto or Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal.
  • Between Tony Kemp, Marwin Gonzalez and a bit of Kyle Tucker – left field was a bottom third in the majors offensive spot for the Astros. The Astros either need to obtain a left fielder (or perhaps this is where Aledmys Diaz will end up) or hand the spot to Tucker and hope that his early struggles were temporary like those of George Springer and Alex Bregman when they were first brought up (at much older ages).
  • They need Tyler White to build upon his promising 2018 and prove over a season that he is the answer or part of the answer at the DH spot.
  • The new hitting instructors will be under real scrutiny heading into 2019.

If the Astros can get 3 of these areas clicking they should be a much better offensive team in 2019.

Every Days – Fielding

An area of concern with the team is where they end up in both fielding and in catcher specific pitch framing, base stealing prevention and handling of pitchers.

  • If they are only adding Chirinos behind the plate, they have weakened this area, because he is a much better offensive catcher than defensive, especially compared to Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. On top of this, it seemed like the pitching staff lost faith in Stassi down the stretch.
  • There is no way that Aledmys Diaz will match what Marwin Gonzalez brought to the fielding side as he moved around the diamond. It is very rare for an infield first player to do what Marwin did in the outfield.
  • If Tucker is the answer offensively in left field, he will need to work hard on his fielding as he looked lost and tentative out there in 2018.

The bottom line is that the best way for the Astros to improve in 2019 will be to try to hold as close as they can to their 2018 pitching and get much more production from their hitters. Now whether that is from improvements back to the norm by the hitters already here or by adding a few bats to the mix, remains to be seen.

So do you think this team can improve in 2019 and what does improvement mean to you?

Contract tenders: The next off-season deadline for Astros

The Astros have until midnight on Friday to decide whether to tender contracts for their arbitration-eligible players. If players are not tendered a contract they become free agents. If they are tendered a contract, they are considered signed and enter the arbitration process where both parties submit numbers. They can settle before going to arbitration or leave it up to a hearing and an arbitrator.

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