If there’s anything to take away from the postseason, it’s that the Houston Astros aren’t going anywhere.
The Houston Astros‘ postseason ended Saturday night with the gut wrenching 4-2 loss in ALCS Game Seven to the Tampa Bay Rays. The late postseason run came within one Charlie Morton start of making it back to the World Series, and all the Astro-haters out there can be merry and sleep easy (at least until next season).
While it’s a bummer to not return the October classic, this postseason run showed the character and makeup of this franchise while also giving us a glimpse of what we could be seeing in the near future. Here are my takeaways from Houston’s postseason run.
The Best AL Team Won
Let’s give proper perspective to this year’s American League: The best team won the pennant. This has been the case the last few years, with Houston winning in 2017 and 2019, the Red Sox in 2018, and the Royals in 2016. While the Dodgers steal the star-power headlines, the Tampa Bay Rays were the best team in the league from day one. They have the league’s best bullpen, arguably the best three starters in any rotation, and extreme lineup depth filled with offensive power and defensive prowess.
That being said, the Astros almost beat them. These same Astros that stumbled into the playoffs with a below .500 record, that struggled all year offensively, that lost the top two pitchers in Cy Young voting from 2019, that had a bullpen full of rookies playing key roles, that had the national media major franchises and their whiny fans clamoring at every loss. These doomed Astros turned the switch on and made a Cinderella-type run in the postseason that got them within one win of the World Series.
And, in many ways, the Astros outplayed the Rays in the series. They outhit the Rays 59 – 44, had a higher team batting average and OPS, and the Astros young staff (3.15 ERA) stayed toe-to-toe with the juggernaut Rays pitching (3.08 ERA).
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The difference in the series was the defense. The Rays made spectacular defensive play after defensive play while the Astros had four costly errors in a seven-game series. In the first three games, Houston left 31 runners on base and was only 4-for-22 with runners in scoring position. If the defense was only slightly better, and if we sprinkled in a few more timely base-hits, you’d be reading a Houston Astros World Series article.
For those of you that watch baseball, there is a real difference between regular season baseball and playoff baseball. It probably has never been more pronounced then watching the 2020 Astros, who were anemic offensively from most of the regular season then found their old World Series form in these 13 playoff games. Obviously, other things were at play for their poor regular season – injuries to significant players, no Spring Training, no home crowds– but once the playoffs started, this team hit a higher gear that many other teams have.
Carlos Correa straight up thrived in the playoffs, hitting .368 in 13 games with six home runs, 17 RBIs, an OPS north of 1.2 and some of the biggest hits during the postseason. Though everyone focused on his ALCS errors, don’t forget that Jose Altuve’s bat finally came back to life in October – he hit .375 with five homers and a 1.229 OPS.
Framber Valdez, the Astros best pitcher this season, showcased his skills with a 1.88 ERA and 26 strikeouts in four appearances. As the season switched to playoff mode, Houston was up to the challenge and played like champions (unlike our smack-talking AL West friends the Oakland A’s).
Championship Window is Wide Open
The national media and all the whiny, biased franchises want to believe that the Astros only won the 2017 World Series because they cheated and, now with Justin Verlander’s unfortunate injury, their championship window is closed. I’m sorry to break it you, Yankee and Dodger fans: The Astros aren’t going away for awhile.
The current Houston bullpen has a lot of great versatile young arms with years of club control. The Astros current rotation — Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers, Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier — may not be the scariest lineup, but pretty darn good. On the offensive side, even if the Astros don’t manage to keep George Springer or Michael Brantley, they still have a plethora of MVP-level talented players in their prime age — Altuve (31), Alex Bregman (26), McCullers (26), Valdez (26), Carlos Correa (25), Kyle Tucker (23) — plus, the return of big, scary, home-run hitting machine Yordan Alvarez (23).
The Astros championship window isn’t closing; it’s wide open and we can fit a boat through it. Personally, I think if the Astros re-sign Springer or Brantley (or both), then go get some bullpen help and maybe another starter (Trevor Bauer, anyone?), we could very well see them back in the World Series this time next year.
It’ll be interesting to see what James Click can come up with in these next months to get this group primed for another championship run.