The Buzz Around These Houston Astros Wont Go Away

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The Sunday, July 12, loss to the Tampa Bay Rays may have cost the Houston Astros top spot in the standings. The team has bounced back since the All-Star break with only a single (one-run) loss to the Texas Rangers slightly spoiling an otherwise encouraging re-launch for the second “half” of the season (I use the inverted commas because, obviously, its a little over half-way, in terms of games).

Jul 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) celebrates after hitting a walk off home run during the ninth inning as the Astros defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-4 at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The sweep of the Boston Red Sox was particularly encouraging on many levels.  Collin McHugh captured his eleventh win of the season, equalling his career high set last season; Vincent Velasquez got his first career win; Preston Tucker had his first multiple HR game. Jose Altuve hit his first walk-off homer; and, perhaps most significantly in terms of the dramatic turnaround that the Astros have experienced this season, Minute Maid Park has been packed, with crowds only once dipping below 30,000 since the All-Star break.  Regular readers might recall my article of a few months back where I discussed the problem that the Astros faced trying to increase their attendances this season.

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I haven’t been to as many games as I would have liked this season – I’m sure that’s true of many fans for many reasons – but those I have been to, notably last night’s game against Boston and the mid-June series against Seattle, have been noticeably busier than games in previous seasons.  Now, it’s true that a weekend series will draw casual fans in as will games against the traditional powers like the Red Sox and Yankees, but this feels different to previous seasons.

Case in point: showing up to the parking lots on Hamilton (off the 59 ramp – apologies to non-Houston residents who don’t know the geography around Minute Maid Park), the furthest lot from the ground had bumped up its price to $30 for the game. Thirty Dollars. To park on a bit of waste-ground, that isn’t even that close to the stadium.  The dynamic pricing involved in these unofficial lots speaks volumes of the demand for Astros games.  These lots used to be $5.  No longer.

Case in point: last night we were sat in section 418.  This is probably my favorite place to sit at a baseball game – behind home plate but with a view of the entire park.  It gives you something resembling a computer game view of the game.  You’d often expect to have people sat next to you, but, if you’re one of those fans who enjoys a bit of space, usually you wouldn’t have to wander too far to find a completely open section.  I think you would have been in the 40-s or the 43-s – the corners near the foul poles – before you found a section that even resembled an open section.  I distinctly remember being at games last season where the lower bowl looked like that.  No longer.

If, like me, you’re a bit of a baseball tourist and enjoy taking in games when you visit other Major League cities, you’ll be familiar with the hustle and bustle of the main concourse before or even during a game.  Over the past few seasons, this has been sorely absent from Minute Maid Park.  No longer.

The prospect of things getting better remains.  It is important to note that the team that swept the Red Sox, even though they are currently bottom of the AL East, is not our strongest lineup.  The team currently has George Springer and Jed Lowrie on the disabled list, though how Lowrie fits back into the starting lineup with Carlos Correa in such fine form remains to be seen.  Springer will undoubtedly be back in the lineup as soon as he is ready, even though LJ Hoes has an almost identical batting average to Springer. He has only drawn 23 walks for his career while Springer has 42 this season alone.

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The Astros currently sit in the Wild Card spot for the American League, two games back of the Angels.  The 54 wins took only 97 games compared to 127 last year.  Scott Kazmir will join the team in Kansas City this evening.  The prospect of playoff baseball only two years after we endured our third consecutive 100-loss season is tantalizing.

The Astros have four more home-stands remaining on the season and play all divisional rivals home and away.  There is no reason to expect the buzz to go away anytime soon.

Next: What's Next for the Houston Astros Before Trade Deadline?

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