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.

2017-2018 NBA Season Preview

The NBA summer was the most interesting and fascinating offseason in recent memory due to the amount of transactions and the significance of these deals. Multiple Hall of Famers, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul, changed teams this offseason, which partially switched the power dynamic in the NBA. In addition to these future Hall of Famers, current stars in their prime, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Paul Millsap, all changed teams this offseason. Along with the number of stars that switched sides this offseason, many of these players were traded, which has never been done before to this height.

Favorite: Golden State Warriors

Even though the Warriors did not add any new components to their team, they are the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA championship and are vying for the title of the greatest team of all-time and become a dynasty. Though the Warriors did not acquire another star, they were one of the winners of the offseason because they were able to keep their key supporting parts, Andre Iguodala, David West, Zaza Pachulia, and Shaun Livingston, while acquiring valuable scoring bench players such as Nick Young and Omar Cassapi. The Warriors do not have any flaws on their team because even though they lack a true center, they are able to play small and avoid the issue. Their “death lineup” of Durant, Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala has not been stopped and there is no team with the capabilities to overcome their combination of great defense and explosive offense. In addition, they are all willing to share the ball and play as a team, which eliminates the possibility of “hero ball” and stagnate offense. On defense, outside of Curry, they are all extremely athletic, lengthy, and willing to play together as a team. Even though some will speculate that other teams can compete with the Warriors to drive viewership, no other team can compete with the Warriors and they will win their second consecutive title and third title in four years.

Other Contenders: Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder

Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, each of these made major offseason moves in an attempt to better themselves and increase their chance at dethroning the defending champions. The most interesting move of the offseason was the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas deal between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. The additions of Dwyane Wade, Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Jeff Green should make the Cavs a better team and give them a higher chance of defeating the Warriors. While they improved their depth, they still do not have a good defense and the will severely miss Irving’s ability to create offense against any defender. IT and DWade have great offensive talent, but IT looked exposed against elite defenses and Wade is too old to be consistently relied upon to run the offense. The Cavaliers have their flaws, but they remain the class of the Eastern Conference as long as James dawns Cleveland on his jersey. The other side of the deal should help the Celtics close the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers in the East. Kyrie gives Boston an elite scorer who can dominate a game. In addition to Kyrie, Hayward is a star in the league and the trio of him, Irving, and Horford will keep the Celtics as a top two team in the East. Unfortunately, they will not be able to overcome the Cavs unless one of their talented young players, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, or Jayson Tatum, take a significant leap forward and become a dependable star. Due to the added storylines, the series between the Cavs and Celtics will definitely be more exciting and closer than last years Eastern Conference Final.

In the West, Houston¬† made the first big move of the offseason when they convinced Chris Paul exit the City of Angels and join Houston. The combination of Paul and James Harden may be the most exciting 1-2 combo in the league. Although there will be questions about who is running the offense since they are both ball dominant players, they are too talented and driven to succeed to not figure out the problem. However, the Rockets will likely not climb higher than the third best team in the West because a lot of other star power. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, and Ryan Anderson are nice players, but they are not at the level of the other contending teams. Even though the Spurs did not acquire a marquee player during the offseason, the combination of Popovich and Kawhi Leonard is too dangerous of a duo to not be one of the best teams in the West. The Spurs’ style of play will guarantee the team 50+ wins, but they look like nothing more than a second round team, unless Aldridge return to his past dominant self and become a superstar once again. Finally, the team with the best opportunity to beat the Warriors is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti has done an incredible job of recovering from the Durant departure and exchanging picks and spare parts into Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Carmelo is an aging star, but he is still a fabulous offensive player and will be determined to win a championship. George is one of the preeminent players in the league as he is one of the best two way players in the league. George and Anthony will give the Thunder the capability of keeping up with the Warriors on offense. Steven Adams is a solid fourth option and will add toughness and defense to the starting lineup. However, the rest of the team is subpar and will ultimately be their undoing. The team’s biggest asset and the player that gives the team the best chance of beating the Dubs is Russell Westbrook. The reining MVP would like nothing more than defeat Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Although this determination may drive him to work too hard and attempt too many breath taking plays, he has a lot of talent around him and must rely on his teammates.

Interesting Teams to Watch: Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Philadelphia 76ers

Due to an incredible inflow of young talent, these three teams have the potential to take a large step forward and make the playoffs. The Bucks took a major step forward last season and it was mostly due to the emergence of Giannis as a legitimate superstar. Giannis should continue to improve his game as he learns to develop a jump shot and adds muscle to his slight frame. Along with Giannis, the team has solid young players such as Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, and Khris Middleton. With Jason Kidd as their head coach, the team will continue improving and enacting a position-less system. Due to the team’s versatility and athleticism, they can continue to overwhelm their opponents on both sides of the court. The team will need to develop a second star to partner with Giannis, but they have the potential to become the next great team in the East, when LeBron decides to either retire or head west. The other team in the East that will be fascinating to watch is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have been terrible for years, but they are finally ready to see the benefits of “The Process”. During his brief stint last season, Embiid looked like an absolute force that can dominate a game offensively and defensively. Ben Simmons has looked extremely talented during the preseason and some believe that he has the skill and size to play like Magic Johnson. First overall pick Markelle Fultz has been dealing with injuries this preseason, but he was the number one overall pick for a reason and has superstar talent.

There may not be a team in the NBA that can boast more young talent than the Minnesota Timberwolves. The combination of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins will put fear into opposing teams for years. KAT may already be the best big man in the league because he can do so many different things on the court. The team has the potential to make the playoffs this season because of the additions they made during the offseason. The additions of veterans Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague will make the team more savvy and intelligent, which is dangerous because of their great talent.

2017 AL MVP Prediction and Analysis

The AL MVP has been an exciting race the entire season and it is still undecided who will win the award. Although Mike Trout posted the best per game statistics in the American League, he missed a good amount of time with an injury and plays for a team that will not be playing in October. The contest will be between Yankees’ right fielder Aaron Judge and Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve. There are so many interesting story lines between the two players, mainly due to their difference in size. Jose Altuve is the smallest player in baseball and has incredible contact and speed while Judge is the biggest player in MLB history and possesses the most power in baseball.

Why Judge should win?

Aaron Judge has been an incredible story as it was unknown if he would even make the team before the season. During a brief stint in the Bronx last season, Judge struck out 50% of his at bats and hit an abysmal .174. However, Judge grabbed the bull by the horn and put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in MLB history, breaking numerous records along with way. A few of the records that he broke were the most home runs by the rookie, 52, most home runs in Yankees Stadium in a season, 33, and most walks in a season by a rookie, 127. Judge had one of the most up and down seasons in baseball this season as he batted .330 with 30+ home runs before the All Star break, went through a terrible stretch in July and August, but ended the season extraordinarily strong in September, which catapulted him back into the MVP race. Along with Judge’s impressive power, AL-leading 52 home runs, he hit a respectful .284, while leading the AL in On-Base Percentage, .422, OPS, 1.049, walks, 127, runs, 128, and finishing second in the AL in RBIs, 114. In addition, he leads in WAR, depending on the WAR statistic that you are looking at. Outside of batting average, steals, and hits, Judge leads Altuve in nearly every offensive category. Along with great offensive statistics, he was one of the better right fielders in baseball as he posted a positive DWAR. In addition, his demeanor and leadership abilities cannot be neglected as he helped the Baby Bombers mature quickly and compete against more experienced teams. Judge’s importance to the Yankees cannot be more evident. When he was crushing the ball in the first half of the season, the Yankees led the AL East and were one of the best teams in the league. However, during his struggles, New York lost their AL East lead and had difficulty scoring. The combination of his offensive power, defensive ability, and leadership is the reason why he was vital to the Yankees path to the playoffs and should win the 2017 AL MVP.

Why Altuve should win?

Jose Altuve may only be 5’6″, 165, but he is one of the three best players in the league because he can literally do everything on a baseball field. Due to his size, position, and skill, Altuve reminds many of 2-time NL MVP second baseman Joe Morgan. Altuve has been progressively improving over the past five years and deserves this accreditation. Altuve can do it all on the field, whether it hit for average, blast balls out of the park, use his speed to score, and play incredible defense. For the fourth straight seasons, Altuve led the league in hits while leading the league in average in three of the past four years. In addition to his incredible ability to hit for contact, Altuve has a lot of power for someone who is dramatically under 6’0″. This season, Altuve accumulated 67 extra base hits, 24 home runs, 39 doubles, and 4 triples, which led him to a .547 slugging percentage and .957 OPS. His ability to get on base and use his speed, 32 stolen bases, has enabled him to become one of the best run producing players in the league and a perfect lead off hitter. This season, the young Astro scored a total of 112 runs. Altuve’s statistics are undeniably amazing, but he is the heart of the Astros, the second best team in the AL and a team that won over 100 games. Altuve is the catalyst of one of the best offenses in baseball and should be recognized for his greatness as well as the Astros success.

 

Who should win the award?

Even though the race for AL MVP will be undeniably close, the winner of MVP should be Aaron Judge. Aaron Judge combines statistics with the wow-factor that is rare in a player and unheard of in a rookie. Judge leads the league in jersey sales, becoming the first rookie to ever accomplish that “feat”.¬† In reality though, Judge possesses better numbers than Altuve, was more valuable for his club, and Judge produced in an inferior lineup. Although Judge recorded less hits and a lower average, his ability to draw walks enabled him to surprisingly score more runs and produce a higher on-base percentage than Altuve. In addition, even though Altuve is lauded for his great defense, Judge has produced a higher WAR. Although one can argue second base is a more important position than right field, it is not like Altuve is playing catcher, shortstop, or centerfield. Thus, Altuve has posted more hits, but Judge is still scoring more runs, driving more runs in, and hitting for vastly more power. In addition, Judge has done more in a lineup that is worse than the Astros lineup. The Astros paced the American League in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, average, on-base, slugging, and OPS. Although the Yankees were top three in many of these stats, the Bronx Bombers do not have the same fire power as the Astros. The combination of Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and Marwin Gonzalez represent a stronger core than the Yankees can post. Although it would be criminal to diminish the talents and production of the diminuative second baseman, Aaron Judge deserves to be the third rookie to claim both the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP.