The 2021 Astros season is over, and upon reflection over a few days I had some thoughts.
The initial reaction is ouch. Ouch Ouch Ouch. Although this is nowhere near as painful as the 2019 World Series loss, the Houston Astros were still only two wins away from their second World Series title.
My next thought is to congratulate the Atlanta Braves, who overcame countless obstacles throughout the year en route to winning their first World Series since 1995. Team with a great fanbase and some very likable players like Freddie Freeman, Max freed, and of course Charlie Morton. That team should be a force for years to come .
Back to the Astros – The aftermath of the World Series loss is all too predictable. All the Internet trolls, along with all the other team’s media outlets and fan bases, are all a little too happy that the Houston Astros lost the World Series. Having to hear and read tweets angry know-it-alls that feel validated because the Astros lost is a tough pill to swallow, but I guess that’s what unhappy people do.
Houston also faces a lot of uncertainty in the offseason. Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke (along with Brooks Raley, Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia) all will be entering free agency and it’s a high likelihood that all of them will not be with the Astros next season. The Astros will also no longer be with Brent Strom, whose efforts with the Astros organization over the past years have been beyond incredible. It seems significant change might happen over the winter.
The Astros’ 2021 season in review.
So what was the 2021 season? If you ask Astro haters out there it was a failure – a well-deserved pain and punishment for a franchise they despise because the media tells him to hate him. For Astro fans – it’s pain again being so close yeah not getting that ring. But If you step back and look at what this team has done in the past five years, It’s pretty incredible what this franchise has accomplished — and 2021 might be the best season for the Houston Astros.
I know what you’re thinking — what are you talking about!?? 2017 was the best year for this franchise. Altuve won the MVP, Houston won the World Series, beating the holier-than-thou LA Dodgers in Game 7. Springer-dingers, Verlander gems, Breggy bombs, Altuve hitting .350, Correa’s dominating defense on the base pads – It was magical. I’m telling you what they did in 2021 was more impressive.
It was impressive because of perspective and situation. The Houston Astros came to the 2021 season picked the only 86 games. Many experts had picked the Oakland A’s to win the AL West and Astros regressing into a fringe wild-card team whose championship window was perceived to be closed.
And If you take a step back it was a fair assumption. The Astros no longer had Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke looked old. They didn’t have a stellar bullpen on paper. George Springer was now a Toronto Blue Jay. Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley were all in their 30s, Yordan Alvarez was coming off two knee surgeries, Kyle Tucker was still considered a question mark and Alex Bregman had a 2020 season to forget.
Not to mention, contract negotiations went extremely south with Carlos Correa which signaled this is likely his last season with the club. Everything was set up for a down year.
This was also the first season that fans would be allowed back in the stadiums since the cheating scandal, and fans were ready to spew hatred bile and venom towards the team that disgraced the game.
The cheating scandal may not be big topic for players, but it is still a big headline for baseball fans and media. And the 2021 Astros where to shoulder a burden that no other team in the history of the big four sports has ever had to – they were going to go into every opposing stadium and be greeted with irrational pent-up hatred from angry miserable fans.
They were going to be mocked daily in the media by other teams, and any success that they would have that season was going to be discredited. This was the universal punishment that everyone in baseball thought was justified for the “Cheating Astros”. There was no escaping it. The only team I can even think of that maybe were close to this hate was the early 1990s Detroit Pistons — but that team never received the level of hate Houston was going to be dealt in 2021.
That hate was everything as advertised on opening night in Oakland. Fans casted boos when they introduced Astro players, cheered when guys got hit-by-pitches and threw fake trashcans on the field. It wasn’t a baseball game, it was Wrestlemania. And the Astros were booed more than Vince McMahon, Triple H and Roddy Piper ever were.
And this happened to the Astros the entire season – all 81-road games of perpetual toxic anger thrown at them. They were called cheaters and other choice words ad nauseam, they saw every machination of trash can costume you can think of and saw thousands upon thousands of middle fingers from the angry fan mob.
In the case with the classy Yankee and Red Sox fans, they saw countless signs of veiled hatred towards Jose Altuve — making fun of his height, perpetuating buzzer conspiracies and discrediting all his accomplishments (even though he was not involved in the 2017 scandal). Baseball fans around the league teamed up to make the Astros life a living hell.
And guess what? Not only did the Astros block out all that negative energy, they harnessed it.
They embraced it. They wanted it. It made them tougher.
Following a slow start in May, the Astros caught fire and took over the AL West from the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) A’s. Dusty Baker kept his ball club focused, Alex Cintron kept the lineup raking in hits and Brent Strom made guys like Luis Garcia, Brooks Raley and Ryne Stanek look incredible on the mound.
They addressed some bullpen needs at the deadline then cruised the rest of the way to an AL West crown. Yuli Gurriel won the batting title.
Michael Brantley had yet another season hitting above .300. Altuve and Yordan Alvarez both hit 30+ HRs, Carlos Correa likely earned his first Gold Glove, Luis Garcia earned himself some Rookie of the Year recognition and Lance McCullers established himself as a true ace in the American League. Not bad for a team projected to “regress” in 2021.
In the playoffs, Houston dispatched two terrific teams in the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox en route to making their third World Series in the last five years.
A team has not won three pennants in five years since the ’90s Braves teams and early 2000s New York Yankee teams. Think about the players on those teams – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Paul O’Neil and Mariano Rivera. This Astros team is on that level.
This was also the least talented of the recent Astro World Series teams. Houston had a young starting pitching staff full of guys who were under-the-radar prospects, a 37-year-old Greinke, a very leaky bullpen at times, sporadic production from the bottom hitters in the lineup and another injury-plagued season from Bregman.
The script didn’t project them to make it far in the playoffs. And this team were perhaps a few WS Game 4 base hits and a healthy Lance McCullers away from winning it all.
Think this is wrong? Ask yourself would any of the other teams handle the season like the Astros did and make the World Series.
Do you think the Atlanta Braves, a team that battled injuries and adversity all season and won the championship, could have made their second half run with all opposing fans hating their guts and booing them every night? I honestly think they would have cratered and stayed around .500.
The Boston Red Sox? Alex Cora is a great manager, but no way they that team about have been able to handle the scrutiny that the Astros got.
The LA Dodgers? Not a chance. They would have imploded, blamed their season on injuries (or the cliché “World Series Hangover”), tucked their tail between their legs and by September their fans would only be talking about the Lakers.
The New York Yankees? Don’t make me laugh — they have a hard-enough time winning big without any scandal. (Oh by the way – open the letter!)
The Brewers? The A’s? Padres? White Sox? None of the Above. None of those teams could go through a 162-game season labeled as the ultimate supervillain and still win. It takes a certain amount of both talent and mental toughness that only this Astros core has. Houston sucked it up, owned it because they had no choice, they toughened up – then they went out and won the American League.
I don’t know what 2022 brings for the Houston Astros squad, but I’m excited. Tucker, Alvarez, Altuve, Brantley, Bregman, Lance McCullers Jr., Yuli Gurriel, Framber Valdez, Pressly and so many others. – this team will be terrific.
But before we try to move on, let’s not forget or a real success the 2021 season was. The general baseball world will never like this great Astros team, but now they all must respect them.
And they’re not going away anytime soon.