The Houston Astros proved all during the summer of 2015 that they were capable of exceeding expectations. Even the most optimistic fans surely didn’t expect their long time last place team to hold onto first place in the AL West for 139 days. Fewer still probably thought the Astros had a legitimate chance at a playoff berth or to play beyond the first rounds.
It was interesting to watch the national media’s treatment of the Astros throughout the year. Prior to the season, and for most of the past decade, MLB Network, ESPN, and other television and print media commentators and writers virtually ignored the Astros. It was as though they weren’t there – insignificant is how one person described the team. That characterization, although a bit cruel and bothersome to many Astros fans, was not far off the mark. A last place team that loses an average of 104 games a year over the last four seasons is essentially insignificant.
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As the season progressed, and it became clear that the Astros were significant this time around, and better than most thought they could be, more people began to notice. The MLB Network people such as Harold Reynolds began talking about the Astros in a more positive way than ever before. Through July and August, with Houston in first place much of the time, it was becoming obvious to anyone paying attention that the Astros were for real and were a legitimate contender for a playoff spot. The Astros were showing abilities that made them worthy of mention as men among the best in the sport.
Although several members of the team were actually performing almost exactly to expectations, as a whole, the Astros were playing above their pay grade, so to speak. Most of us figured Jose Altuve would hit about .310 with 200 hits, Dallas Keuchel would likely pitch 200 or so innings, with perhaps 15 wins. George Springer was expected to hit about .280, and we hoped Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus would hit 20+ home runs each. We knew the strikeouts would be at or near the most in MLB, and we hoped the home run output would cover that. We knew that Carlos Correa might get a big league chance this season, and we hoped he would have an immediate impact.
On the downside, no one expected Springer to miss six weeks with a fractured wrist, or that Chris Carter‘s power would fade. We didn’t expect Jed Lowrie to miss so many games due to injuries, and we were disappointed in the low offensive numbers from Jason Castro and Jake Marisnick. The net effect, though, was that the pluses overcame the minuses, and the Astros continued to win.
Then came the AL Wild Card game, and there were still doubters. It is safe to guess that Yankee fans, and possibly the Yankees team, thought they had this one in the bag. It is no great stretch to imagine that the Yankees, as arrogant an organization as exists in sports, thought they would easily handle the Astros. When the Astros shut out the Yankees on their own turf and eliminated them from the playoffs, we can bet there were some severely stunned people among the Yankee faithful. They probably still can’t believe what happened. Sorry, New York, perhaps you should have taken our guys from Houston more seriously. No Mulligans offered here.
The Astros moved on to play the Kansas City Royals, the team that dropped last year’s World Series to the Giants. Game one was a hard fought battle, but the spirit of the Astros came through, and they beat the Royals at home. We are reasonably certain the Royals expected to play the Yankees in the ALDS. The proof is in the posted lineup card in Kauffman Stadium.
Although Houston dropped game two on Friday, they come home for Sunday’s game with Keuchel on the mound. There are no guarantees, although they obviously have a distinct advantage when Keuchel’s Korner is full of orange shirts and beards. The Astros have beaten the odds so far and exceeded expectations. They’re playing with house money, and they know what to do with it.