How the Astros became World Series Champions

On Wednesday night, the 2017 Houston Astros won the franchise’s first ever World Series Championship by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games. The series may go down as the greatest series of all-time mostly due to the absurdity of Game 2 and Game 5, which many will contend as the best and most fascinating game ever played. The Astros’ path to the 2017 World Series was not an easy one. The team had to undergo years of painful losing and atrocious play on the field before they finally were able to capitalize. However, that long process makes this moment even more sweeter for them and their fans. Even if you do not like the Astros or baseball in general, one has to enjoy seeing the excitement that each young player exudes on the field.

THE BEGINNING:

The Astros’ 2017 World Series run began one decade ago, when the team signed a young 17 year old second baseman named Jose Altuve out of Venezuela. At the time, scouts doubted Altuve because he is significantly smaller compared to many of his peers. However, the Astros believed in his talent and his incredible bat speed as well as the veracity with which he swings the bat. Altuve was sent to the Astros minor league where he could develop and improve. Two years later, Houston drafted starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel in the seventh round of the MLB draft. Keuchel was not highly sought after coming out of the University of Arkansas because he did not have a blazing fastball or incredible secondary pitches. After middling in the NL Central, at the time, the Astros decided to tank in a manner that would even make the 76ers proud. In 2010, the team finished 10 games under .500, which gave them the 11th selection in the draft. The team turned the 11th pick into starting center fielder, George Springer. Over the following three seasons, the team lost a total of 324 games, which was by far the worst in baseball. However, GM Jeff Luhnow, hired in 2011, was able to turn these amazing draft picks into superstar selections. In 2012, the team drafted shortstop Carlos Correa with the first overall pick and Lance McCullers Jr. with one of the team’s compensatory picks. Also, in 2012, the club acquired Marwin Gonzalez in the rule 5 draft. In 2015, the team drafted Daz Cameron and Alex Bregman. In addition, since the team was terrible, they were able to give their young and talented stars more at bats and expose in the major leagues. McCullers, Keuchel, Altuve, and Gonzalez all acquired years of experience that allowed them to develop into the game’s best players.

BREAK-THROUGH:

To begin the 2015 season, the Astros named AJ Hinch the manager of the club because of his ability to listen to the data analysts, but also his history of developing young players. In addition to adding Hinch, the team traded for Evan Gattis because of his ability to hit with power and provide a veteran presence to the young club. During the 2015 season, the Astros made the biggest jump in baseball as they won 16 more games than the 2014 squad. In addition, to their increase in wins, the team was able to make the Wild Card Game and upset the Yankees in Yankees Stadium. The team later lost to the eventual champion Kansas City Royals in 5 games, but the season could be seen as nothing but a success. In addition to the team’s success, players such as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Dallas Keuchel, and George Springer took major steps forward. Already an All-Star in the league, Altuve became an MVP candidate and ultimately finished top 10 in the MVP voting. Correa was called up half way through the season, but was still able to post stats that made him the AL Rookie of the Year. George Springer was also limited to only half a season, but displayed the combination of power and speed that makes him one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. On the mound, Lance McCullers put forth a fabulous rookie season as he started 22 games and compiled a 3.22 ERA during those starts. However, the player that made the largest leap forward was Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel claimed the 2015 AL Cy Young Award by winning 20 games, completing 3 games, striking out 216 batters, and limiting hitters to a minuscule 2.48 ERA. Keuchel’s performance was imperative for the club because the team had enough offensive talent, but they lacked a true ace that could go an win games against the best teams in the playoffs.

FINAL TOUCHES:

After a disappointing 2016 season, in which, the club failed to make the playoffs, Luhnow realized that he had the young core to succeed, but needed more to become a true contender. During the offseason, the team was one of the busiest as they signed veterans Josh Reddick, Charlie Morton, and Carlos Beltran. In addition, they went out and acquired Brian McCann from the Yankees in exchange for prospects. Lastly, they knew they would be getting a full season from Cuban defector Yuli Gurriel at first base. The combination of Beltran, McCann, and Reddick was incredible for the young core because they could teach the players how to play like professionals and guide them through the rigors of a 162 game schedule. In addition, they were the only players on the team that had ever won a playoff series, let alone compete in the World Series. Morton brought a veteran presence to the team, which lack legitimate starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel was the ace of the staff, but dealt with a back injury and their second best starter, McCullers, was frequently hurt and inconsistent. However, due their offense, the team instantly became one of the best in the league and took the lead of the AL West. By season’s end, the team had the best offense in the league and statistically ranked as the best offense since the Yankees in the early 1930s. Those teams were led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to put that in perspective.  The team had five .300 hitters and seven players hit at least 18 home runs. However, the team was still searching for help at the deadline because they knew they did not have the starting pitching to win. Unfortunately, although they had been in trading discussions for Justin Verlander, Yu Darvish, and Sonny Gray, they were unable to acquire any of these top starters. The team continued to linger until August 31, when they were able to acquire Justin Verlander from the Tigers for prospects and cash. The acquisition of Verlander gave new life to Houston as well as the veteran ace, who had never won a WS ring. The team led by Verlander, who won 5 games and pitched to a 1.06 ERA, finished the year strong and won the AL West. Throughout the playoffs, the team was able to score an abundance amount of runs and receive clutch pitching performances from Verlander, Keuchel, and surprisingly Charlie Morton to defeat the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers to claim the team’s first title.