Thanks for reading, everybody – enjoy the Astros magical 2018 season!
We all want the Astros to win back-to-back championships. Baseball hasn’t had a repeat champion since the Yankees won three consecutive titles 17 years ago. That was back when the wild-card format was still relatively new (1995) and long before Major League Baseball added a wildcard play-in game (2012).
Baseball playoffs have been perpetually growing since 1969 when the sport first introduced the concept of league championship series. Back then, they were best-of-five contests, and the winner moved on to the World Series. In 1985, they grew to seven games but the postseason was still just a single series followed by the World Series.
Now, with play-in games, wild card teams, and division series, a team might have to win as many as 12 games (while potentially playing 20) to be crowned champions.
The 1977-78 Yankees played 21 games over the course of two postseasons, winning 14 en route to back-to-back championships. Last year alone – to win a single championship – the Astros played 18 games and won 11. If they do repeat, they’ll have to win eight more games than those late 70s Yankee teams. That’s not just harder from a pure numbers standpoint – it’s exponentially more exhausting.
Expansion has by no means been exclusive to the postseason; baseball lengthened its regular season by eight games in 1961 when they jumped from 154 games to the current 162. That was before there were playoffs; in 1961, if you won the most games in your league, you proceeded directly to the World Series. The ‘61 Yankees played 167 games and won a title. The Astros were up on the Yankees, 1-0, in the league championship series at the conclusion of their 167th game last year. They still had 13 games left.
In other words, for 55 years, baseball has been systematically making it harder and harder for teams to repeat.
Here’s the Cliffs Note version.
As we get ready this week to watch the Astros’ defend their championship. Stirring in every one of you are those warm, fuzzy memories of an October run that will reserve a permanent spot in your brain for as long as your brain functions. You’d be well-advised to set your expectation phasers accordingly.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s ample reason to be optimistic about the 2018 Astros. But success doesn’t necessarily mean a season that ends with everyone drowning in champagne.
Before 2017, the Astros had one league pennant and six division titles. That’s it. They made the postseason in just nine of the organization’s first 54 seasons, compiling a playoff record of 24-38 (which translates to a 100-loss season). They played in 12 postseason series and lost nine of them.
It was just four short years ago, 2014, that the Astros put the finishing touches on a four-year stretch in which they lost 416 games.
In other words, we can’t forget the journey.
Granted, the Astros look good enough to blast the rest of the AL West into orbit; they’d likely be heavy favorites in any division series; they certainly can (on paper) match up with any other team in baseball.
But no one has ever solved baseball, and just when you think you have solved baseball – well, baseball has other plans because it’s an evil piece of crap that enjoys taking permanent residence in your nightmares. So, sure – anything less than a clone of the 2017 season will be disappointing.
Realistically, though, if the Astros add another 90+-win season to the ledger (which would be just their eighth all-time); another division title to the rafters (just their seventh); another playoff series (or two) victory to their tiny total of six… we can’t be cynical and pretend it’s beneath us just because the team doesn’t properly defend its title this year.
Yes, repeating is hard. But being an Astro fan has been harder.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***