Houston Astros: Going back a decade to compare 2005 to 2015
The Houston Astros are commemorating the ten year anniversary of the 2005 National League Championship team this weekend, including a pre-game ceremony on Saturday with several alumni expected to be in attendance.
Ten years ago, the culture of baseball in Houston was different, to say the least; the city buzzed just about every October as the Killer B’s and top-notch pitching defined a baseball town. From 1997-2005, the Astros reached the postseason six times, and even though the franchise didn’t win its first playoff series until 2004, there was no denying the winning culture in Houston.
in 2005, the Astros roared back from an abysmal start to the season and clinched a wild-card playoff berth on the final day of the regular season. Then, in memorable fashion, the team beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS and punched a ticket to St. Louis to take on the division rival Cardinals. The Astros were able to avenge their 2004 NLCS loss to St. Louis and clinch a World Series berth in six games, despite a shocking turn of events in Game 5 that still earns Albert Pujols boos every time he visits Minute Maid Park. The Fall Classic followed against the Chicago White Sox and the Astros fell in four games in one of the closest series sweeps imaginable. In the four World Series games, the Astros lost by a combined five runs.
The struggles that followed the 2005 season are well documented and fans eventually lost interest – as evidenced by declining attendance numbers and a failed TV deal. A decade passed without a winner, but the city of Houston is buzzing about baseball again. The 2015 Astros have led the A.L. West for 98 days after finishing 2014 at 70-92.
On August 13, the 2005 Houston Astros were 63-54; this year, the Houston Astros are 62-53 and expect to be a contender in October. Don’t be fooled by the record, though, because the similarities between the two teams don’t extend much further than that.
The Houston Astros in 2005 were led by a slew of proven veterans that had already solidified their game with several seasons of outstanding baseball. The average age of the World Series team was 30.3 years old. The 2015 team is almost a year younger at 29.12 years old. The current Astros bullpen holds most of the team’s veteran presence, though, as every guy is over 30 except for Josh Fields (turns 30 on Aug. 19).
The 2005 team turned to Roger Clemens, 42; Craig Biggio, 39; Jeff Bagwell, 37; Brad Ausmus, 36; and Andy Pettitte, 33, for leadership. The young arm out of the bullpen in 2005 was Chad Qualls (3.28 ERA) at 26-years-old; in 2015, Qualls (3.82 ERA) is now the oldest player on the team at 36-years-old.
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Going into the 2005 season, the Astros were expected to hurt from the departure of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, but still have plenty left to contend with on the strength of their rotation.
At the beginning of this season, many tabbed Astros as a team still a year or two away from contention, and nobody predicted they would be sitting atop the A.L. West in the middle of August. The 2015 team is a fun, young group that opens up Club Astros after every win. The core group of guys on this team are extremely young compared to the 2005 team – Jose Altuve, 25; George Springer, 25; and Carlos Correa, 20. The only position player on the roster over 30-years-old is Jed Lowrie at 31.
Offense – Advantage: 2015 Astros
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The 2005 team averaged 4.28 runs per game, 24th in MLB while the 2015 club currently ranks sixth at 4.37 runs per game. This year’s team has also struck out 1,007 times in 115 games while the 2005 team struck out only 1,037 times all season.
In 2005, the Astros averaged 33.9 at-bats per home run; in 2015 the team is hitting one out every 24.3 at-bats.
Morgan Ensberg, Biggio, Jason Lane and Lance Berkman (.411 OBP) provided the power 10 years ago, but only six players reached double-digit home run totals. The 2015 group already has eight players into double digits with three others only a few away from the plateau.
The advantage for the offense in this situation comes down to preference. Some may prefer a more consistent offensive approach, but in 2015 we know that this club is never out of a ballgame with the power throughout the lineup.
Pitching – Advantage: 2005 Astros
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The 2015 team’s pitching numbers hold up surprisingly well against the 2005 club. How so? Ten years isn’t a long time, but it’s enough for the game of baseball to change. Offensive numbers as a whole are down now compared to ten seasons ago at the tail end of the steroid era.
Whether it was on a level playing field or not, what Clemens and Co. did in 2005 is nothing short of spectacular. At 42-years-old, Clemens’ 1.87 ERA was the best of his career, but he only finished 13-8 because of the lack of run support he received throughout the year.
Pettitte (2.39 ERA) and Roy Oswalt (2.94 ERA) were the other two-thirds of the three-headed monster that season. Brad Lidge was a force out of the bullpen as he recorded a 2.29 ERA and a career-high 42 saves until well… you know.
This season, Dallas Keuchel has silenced anyone that questioned whether or not he could repeat the success of his 2014 campaign. He has been even better in 2015, with a lower ERA (2.40) and WHIP, while striking out one more batter per nine innings than he did last season.
Scott Kazmir, acquired at the deadline, has performed even better than advertised with the Astros, and with a 2.12 ERA on the season, he is undoubtedly just as effective as Keuchel.
The advantage goes to the 2005 team because of the dominance and playoff experience of Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt as well as Ausmus calling the games behind the plate.
Head to head matchup – Winner: 2005 Astros
Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and I have no idea if the Astros will seriously contend into October this year, but the 2005 Houston Astros had three bonafide aces and a National League pennant. Clemens, Pettitte, and Oswalt could potentially mow through the 2015 line-up while racking up double-digit strikeout numbers. The 2015 team’s arms are nothing to scoff at, but Keuchel and Kazmir would likely be the fourth and fifth starters on the 2005 team.
There are at least five players from the 2005 team that deserve Hall of Fame consideration (including Biggio), and even though Bagwell was not much of an on-the-field presence in ’05, the veteran leadership in the clubhouse was strong.
The 2015 club also has a chance to be something special, but they will have to learn and grow on the fly in October. Who knows, maybe we’ll be celebrating the special 2015 Astros team 10 years from now when Carlos Correa is all of 30-years-old.