The Runner Sports

The Evolution Will Be Televised: Passion, Purpose, Pride Propel Astros Into Playoffs

The Houston Astros finished the 2017 regular season with their second highest franchise win total, 101, and earned home field advantage for the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, from whom they took three of four to end the season.

The first two ALDS games, Thursday and Friday (October 5 & 6) found the Astros having their way with the Sox, with a 2-game, 16-4 combined score at Minute Maid Park. The Astros have played 64 playoff games in their history: 37 day games and 27 night games. They are 16-15 in home playoff games, all-time, and 10-23 on the road, while they’re 15-22 in day games, and 11-16 in night games, coming into Sunday’s Game 3 at Fenway Park.

Related: ALDS, Game 1: Astros’ Sales Resistance, Altuve’s 3 Bombs Derail Red Sox, 8-2

While most playoff teams feel a certain pressure during the postseason, the sense is that these Astros are on something akin to a mission, or, if the turbulent events of late August are added to the mix, a crusade.

Luck, happenstance, or providence miraculously merged the horror of Hurricane Harvey with the just-under-the-wire acquisition of ace starter, Justin Verlander, all within the span of several dozen hours the last weekend of the eighth month.

Granted, it’s all only baseball, and countless tens of thousands had their lives disrupted and uprooted, but the “Houston Strong” patch on the Astros’ jerseys help bind a team and their long-suffering, but never-say-die fans together on a march to what the city hopes will long be a part of H-Town history.

Year-End Sale

And, Verlander was obtained to be the missing link to lead that charge, and all the Astros have done is post a 21-8 record since acquiring him. In fact, he bested Game 1 starter, Boston’s Chris Sale, who had never pitched in the postseason before.

In his final 16 starts of 2017, Verlander went 10-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 127 strikeouts and 26 walks in 108 innings. That includes his eye-popping 5-start stint since being traded from Detroit, in which he’s 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA with 43 strikeouts and five walks in 34 IP. For contrast, his first 17 starts of the season with the Tigers yielded a lackluster 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA to go with 92 strikeouts and 47 walks in 98 innings.

According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, “Verlander said last week a change in his arm mechanics — a ‘transition in the way that I throw’ — has returned him to dominance.” I’m guessing a chance to grab a ring has added some motivation, too.

Of more urgent importance, though, as McTaggart reveals: “Verlander is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox in the last two seasons. He faced them twice this year with the Tigers, and he allowed three earned runs and eight hits in 12 innings (2.25 ERA). Boston batted .190 against Verlander this year (prior to Thursday’s Game 1).”

For someone who originally had the Astros listed on his no-trade contract rider (and had to hurriedly sign that waiver delivered by Tiger henchmen 2 seconds before September), Verlander has made himself as welcome as the flowers in spring in the Houston clubhouse. He is routinely seen on the bench during games taking the time to “school” the Astros’ young position players, as well as exchanging notes with his rotation mates.

Houston moves toward the playoffs with an offense that appears more than ready to meet the challenges of Sale and his teammates. In fact, Sale led all baseball with 308 strikeouts, and, Thursday, faced a team that was the hardest to whiff in 2017, totaling an MLB-least 1,087 Ks.

Regular Season In The Rear-View Mirror

Jose Altuve once again led the league in hits with 204, as well as batting average, with a .346, the third year out of four he’s earned the AL batting title.

Carlos Correa was named AL Player of the Week for the season’s final week. Having earned the honor twice in 2016, this is his third POW award. In the middle of the week, he became the first player in Astros history to accumulate three consecutive games with at least three hits and three RBI.

The Astros’ shortstop ruled most of the AL offensive leaderboards for the week, with a .520 average (first), 10 RBIs (first), three homers (tied for second), a 1.040 slugging percentage (third), with a pair of game-winning RBIs, and a 1.611 OPS. He also had a couple of four-hit games, while also setting a career peak with his 24th homer.

Of more relevance, considering the ALDS, Correa went 6-for-10 with a double, homer and three RBIs in the Astros’ final series of the season against the Red Sox. Correa spent six weeks on the DL with a torn thumb ligament, and returned in early September, with just enough time, it seems, to regain his timing, edge, and eye at the plate.

The Astros’ .824 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging) in the regular season was the best by any team in MLB since the 2009 New York Yankees (.839).

Comin’ Up

Bowing to an apparent towel-less tradition, the staid Red Sox will forgo red rally towels for their games in Boston, Sunday and Monday. But, orange towels were in rally-ready abundance (would you believe 42,000 for each game?) for the Minute Maid Park games, Thursday and Friday.

The Astros, too, announced an Orange Out throughout Houston, but especially for Games 1 & 2. According to the Houston Chronicle, “the Astros asked local businesses, schools, community leaders, organizations, and Astros fans to wear orange clothing and accessories, decking out their buildings in orange and creatively displaying their Astros pride.

“Astros owner Jim Crane, relief pitcher Joe Musgrove, Orbit and the Shooting Stars joined Mayor Sylvester Turner at noon, Wednesday, in front of City Hall to kick off the playoff celebration.

“The Astros also asked fans to post photos of what they did to Orange Out Houston on social media with the hashtag #EarnHistory. Participating fans could win prizes from the Astros, including tickets, memorabilia and apparel.”

Culture Club

Much has been written about Houston’s loose, fun-loving, but hard-nosed and eager clubhouse culture. Fitting in seems to be easy for new players. Witness Josh Reddick, the September Triple-A call-ups, and the newest Astro, Verlander, whose no-trade list included these same rainbow-clad ‘Stros. All was forgiven, of course, once the team learned the former Cy Young Award Winner would be leading their postseason march, sword thrust high in the sky.

But, starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, had this to say in a recent aside to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, September 29. While hinting at a possible impending retirement, Morton also waxed poetic about the Houston clubhouse vibe:

“Charlie Morton told me recently he may not pitch beyond 2018. He explained why with great eloquence”:

‘I don’t really want to play that much longer. The group we have here is so good. I’m talking about the integrity, the character of the guys you get to come in and spend your days with. I’ve done some thinking about that. The most valuable thing you have is time, and these are the guys I’m investing in.

‘I can only think of a couple other groups I was with, where I look back and say, ‘That was really good. That was really worth it.’ It would be a search for that feeling, where you go in a clubhouse and like being with that group. Here, you’re doing something meaningful, with everything that’s going on in the city. I’ve talked with Brian McCann about this. You’re looking for moments that matter. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the next 2 or 3 years are always going to be like this. This is a moment to be cherished and valued.'”

Related: “Astros Have Charlie Morton, Don’t Need Jose Quintana,” Said No One Ever. Til Now

Astros Fans: Get a hilarious preview of the playoffs with this Houston Chronicle slideshow, “Reasons to Hate Every Playoff Team But the Astros.” It starts with the Red Sox, and covers all AL and NL teams, with sound, reasonable, and humorous reasons why not to like them (to go along with the perfectly good reasons you already have)! Hint: Look for the mention of “toad licking,” and which team is attached and why.

Related: Recalling 1995 NBA Champs, Houston Rockets, Astros’ Fans “Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion”

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle
  • andrew farelli

    If I was a pitcher with the option to add any team to my no trade clause I’d put Baltimore towards the top of the list because of how bad their pitching development is legitimately awful since they have ruined so many different pitchers development over the years.

    • Brad Kyle

      Yeah…I suspect the decision to put a team on your no-trade list is a multi-faceted one, and much goes into the decision. I’m just glad Verlander’s addition of the Astros (and then, actually landing there!) hasn’t hurt his transition, and the team welcomed him with open arms, instead of what could have been animosity for having been previously snubbed!