It’s time to celebrate, Houston-area baseball fans: the Houston Astros are going to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years! Despite dropping their final game to the Arizona Diamondbacks by a score of 5-3, the Astros clinched the second Wild Card berth because the Texas Rangers beat the Angels in their final matchup. Houston finishes the regular season with an 86-76 record, a 16 game improvement over 2014.
In the final game of the regular season, the Astros sent rookie Lance McCullers Jr to the mound to carry the team to the finish line. At the start of the day, Houston had a one-game lead over the Angels for that final spot. All the Astros had to do was win to get in, but they were thankful to get some help from their I-45 rivals.
It’s incredible that the Houston Astros got this far this soon, especially after losing a combined 416 games from 2011-14. Coming into 2015, the Astros had a great nucleus in Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer, but those guys needed a lot of help.
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So Jeff Luhnow went to work. He went out and spent money retooling the bullpen (Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek) and trading for and signing some bigger bats (Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus, to name a couple). Then of course the team had some incredible rookies in McCullers, Preston Tucker, and Carlos Correa, all of whom made significant contributions to this underdog club.
This was truly a team effort for this organization to get here. A lot of the experts predicted that Houston would still be in the AL West basement come to the end of the season. Not one picked the Astros to make the postseason. However, the bats came out swinging and Keuchel and Collin McHugh came out dealing. Here’s the team’s month-by-month record:
Over the course of the season, the Astros led the division for 139 days. The came out hot in April but tapered down as the season went on. Nevertheless, their only losing month was September, when the usually stout bullpen hit a wall. The Houston Astros had to win four of their last six games to stay in contention for a playoff berth, and were actually still in the running for the division title up until the final game of the season.
Of the things that affected the ball club, aside from that September anomaly, was their inability to win on the road (33-48) when compared to playing in Minute Maid Park (53-28). There was also the injury bug, and the team had several major players go on the disabled list for a lengthy period, starting with Jed Lowrie (missed 83 games), then George Springer (missed 53 games), and then Scott Feldman (out for season since beginning of September). These things could not derail Houston’s playoff train.
Dallas Keuchel was amazing this season, winning 20 games and making a strong case for AL Cy Young. Collin McHugh won 19 games and pitched 203.2 innings, both career highs. And Jose Altuve set a franchise record when he recorded his 200th hit of the season in his final at bat on Sunday, becoming the first Houston Astro to have consecutive 200-hit seasons. And we cannot overlook Carlos Correa, who set a franchise record for home runs by a rookie while having a solid all-around season in just 99 games; he should be the front runner for AL Rookie of the Year. There were several unsung guys, too, like Marwin Gonzalez, who was super in the utility role, and Tony Sipp and Will Harris, who were mostly lights out coming on in relief.
With the team’s first postseason berth since 2005, they will travel to New York to play the Yankees on Tuesday, October 6. Houston will send out Dallas Keuchel on three days rest to face Masahiro Tanaka in a one-game playoff. The winner will face the reigning AL Champion Kansas City Royals.
Anything can happen, just ask this 2015 Houston Astros club. Crush City, Hustle City, Clutch City – whatever nickname you call this team, don’t call them losers. That era is over.