The 2022 Houston Astros have become MLB’s ultimate standard for self-redemption.
The Houston Astros were the number-one seed going into this postseason, and they showed us why. They marched to the World Series without losing a single game in the ALDS or the ALCS.
The Philadelphia Phillies had them looking like mere mortals for the first time all postseason three games into the World Series, but the Astros rattled off three straight wins to defeat the Phillies and earn the Commissioner’s Trophy in the process.
That, in and of itself, probably wasn’t a surprise to many. They won 106 games. Every championship team is more than their record, more than their World Series MVP (although Jeremy Peña certainly put a historic spin on that), and more than any one moment. However, there hasn’t been a World Series champion in recent memory quite like these Astros.
News of their sign-stealing scandal broke following the 2019 season, and since that time, they have gone to the ALCS three seasons in a row. It would be fair, though, if other fans didn’t think much of it in 2020.
Houston fell to the Tampa Bay Rays in 7 games on the heels of a 29-31 shortened season. Surely they wouldn’t be back in a full-length season.
It would also make sense if they were less than sympathetic after the underdog Braves knocked them off the top of the mountain to win the World Series in 2021.
A year later, though, they stand alone unlike any world champion before them. These Astros were not underdogs. They weren’t a merely solid team that got hot at the right time, and yet it would be too simple to call them a favorite that destroyed all comers. Whether or not the Astros are objectively more impressive than past champions is besides the point, but there is something to be said about having thick skin and an ability to black out the noise that they’ve been hearing for a couple years now.
All the boos, jeers, and talk of tarnished legacies of the players that suited up in 2017, as well as the constant debate over whether or not it was deserved.
None of it mattered. They’re champions again.
In truth, their status as the best organization in baseball was already cemented before they clinched the World Series on Saturday night. The uniqueness of how impressive they were in 2022 lies in what they have overcome, but that has been the case for more than just the past few months.
In 2020, when they were perceived in a lower light than any pro sports organization had in a long time, they became the second team in MLB history to force a game 7 in the ALCS after being down 3-0 ,despite a subpar regular season. In 2021, the players were shamed for their participation in the sign-stealing scandal in front of live crowds for the first time. They responded by winning a pennant.
In 2022, with the Seattle Mariners having developed into a contender and marquee shortstop Carlos Correa leaving town, they proceeded to win 106 games and go 11-2 in the postseason to win the World Series.
The Astros’ empire has stood long after its perceived expiration date. This was the exclamation point on their journey back to stability. They still aren’t going away anytime soon.
Their year-to-year trajectory isn’t the only way to see the magnitude of what they’ve accomplished. In game 3 in Philadelphia, Lance McCullers Jr. set the World Series record for most home runs allowed by a starting pitcher in a single contest. In game 4, the Astros threw a combined no-hitter. There hasn’t been a better bounce-back performance in sports history, and there won’t be another for a long time.
The Astros went 7-0 in the first two rounds of the postseason, sweeping the Seattle Mariners and then the New York Yankees to win yet another pennant. In those 7 games, Jose Altuve, their leadoff hitter who had the highest wRC+ among second basemen by miles in the regular season, went 3-for-32.
To win a ring after all the scrutiny they faced on an organizational level is a whole different level of impressive. The Astros, however, went 11-2 in the postseason and outside of Yordan Alvarez, their best players weren’t close to being a major factor.
The front office deserves a ton of credit for maintaining a contender, and looking back at the timeline of events after the scandal, it’s surprising that they were able to. Dusty Baker wasn’t the manager in 2017. James Click wasn’t the GM. Even in 2022, key pieces within the organization are shifting as former assistant GM Pete Putila has left for San Francisco and international scouting guru Oz Ocampo will join the Marlins in 2023.
If there is, however, another team-wide scandal of any sort in the future of Major League Baseball, the offenders will no doubt look back at these Astros for the blueprint on how to reconstruct their reputation. Hiring a no-nonsense stalwart in Baker to be the manager was an excellent decision by the front office. Retaining a deep analytics and player development staff will allow them to keep churning out the Cristian Javiers and Framber Valdez’s and Yordan Alvarez’ and Bryan Abreus of the world.
This organization knows how to find the talent – both on the field and off – to keep itself competitive. No other team has figured it out quite like they have.
Maybe the Astros would have won the World Series in 2017 if they weren’t stealing signs. Maybe the players have no one but themselves to blame for the hate they’ve received. The good news for them and their fans, though, is that it no longer matters.
The story of this team isn’t an underdog one. They were, however, seen as the most disgraceful organization in sports just two years ago. Now, they’re the model for building a winning team. That’s self-improvement on the grandest scale, and that’s how these Houston Astros should be remembered.