Baseball is a game of tradition. There is comfort in nine innings, nine players, and ninety-feet to first base. Fans go to games with expectations, and those expectations are almost always met.
As Spring warms our souls with the promise of a new season, hopes loom high among the faithful in every major league city. But even as we wax poetic about Cleveland finally winning it all, we know what the reality is.
By the time October baseball comes around, the usual handful of playoff caliber clubs will be left playing meaningful baseball. The teasers who came out strong or ran off a mid-season winning streak will fade back into the darkness, left to wait for next season’s spring fantasies.
Sure, an occasional outlier makes it to the wild-card game. That keeps the game interesting and puts fans in the seats. But ultimately, a team from New York, California, or one of the historic old teams like St. Louis will exert its destiny on the upstarts.
Houston did what?
Back in 2013, Sports Illustrated featured an article about “Moneyball” and how teams can be built on the cheap over several years. To show how ridiculous the process was, they chose the unlikeliest team to win a World Series and put them on the cover with the caption, “Your 2017 World Series Champs.”
Okay… that’s probably not the real reason SI chose to put the Houston Astros on that predictive cover. Still, no one at the magazine’s headquarters is seriously claiming they thought the team would ever win a World Series, much less in 2017.
Yet there they were, bucking baseball tradition and bringing home its biggest prize. Not only did they beat all odds, they mocked the baseball gods by knocking out their favorite sons, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This is not the first time some gate-crasher stole the Commissioner’s Trophy. Teams from Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona have been allowed to carry the cup in this century. That taste of glory creates a desire to repeat, but deep down they know they have as much a shot of repeating as the Cubs have of winning every hundred years.
But Houston is different. They are talking about doing it again in 2018.
A dynasty in Houston?
Last season saw the first ever World Series Champion from Texas. If it wasn’t for the old soap opera, no one would ever associate the word “Dynasty” with the state. No one, that is, except the brains behind the Astros sneaky rise to the top of the baseball world.
General manager, Jeff Luhnow, put together a solid, young nucleus of hitters in Houston that took the league by storm in 2017. Second baseman, Jose Altuve, took the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. If shortstop, Carlos Correa wasn’t injured down the stretch, he might have won the MVP instead. With another year under his belt, third baseman Alex Bregman could take a shot at the 2018 prize.
When first baseman, Yuli Gurriel, returns from his hand surgery, the Astros might field one of the best home-grown infields in league history. The best news is that the quartet is sure to be around for a few seasons before contracts start expiring.
Then we will see if Houston is ready to pony up the cost of maintaining a dynasty or if they let their stars walk to make way for another wave of talent from their minor league system.
So… this year is a sure bet?
Houston did not sit on their laurels in the postseason. Not only did they beat the Dodgers in the World Series, they beat them in the free agent market by signing the most sought-after pitcher in Gerrit Cole. Cole did not have great numbers the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, but a new start on a better team with a different pitching philosophy will help.
The team also picked up reliever Joe Smith to set up their closer, Ken Giles. They added another former closer in Hector Rondon to offset the loss of Luke Gregorson.
Overall, the bullpen and starting rotation look stronger than last Spring, but nothing is a sure bet. Last season’s leader in starts and innings pitched, Mike Fiers, will not return. Justin Verlander will be there for a full season, but he is on the wrong side of 30 and every other member of last season’s rotation missed time due to injuries.
They do have some depth to ward off short-term injury losses, but you never know how things will turn out. That being said, other than a left-handed relief pitcher, this team has everyone it needs to repeat its runaway performance of 2017.
Is there no one to take them down?
There is a reason we play the games. No one can ever tell how the season will roll out. Injuries can devastate the favorites. A new star can ignite an upstart team. There’s really no way to tell who will win the World Series in any given year. (We checked Sports Illustrated covers. They gave us nothing for this season.)
But that won’t stop me from fearlessly predicting the 2018 Astros’ fate: Houston easily returns to the World Series, where they take a six-game affair against… the Colorado Rockies. (Yeah, I know. But that’s a different article.)