Three weeks ago, eleven Major League Baseball pundits made predictions for the postseason. Five said the Astros would fall in the American League Division Series. Five others said the team’s last stop would be in the AL Championship Series. Only one predicted the Astros would make it to the World Series.
Back in March ahead of the start of the season, CBS Sports experts didn’t even put the Astros in the mix for a pennant win.
Of course, guessing the outcome of a season with as many games, teams, and players as Major League Baseball is almost a guaranteed strikeout. But why would so many people who study the ins and outs of the sport count the Astros out so early in the game? Quite simply, a lot of reasons.
Here are three of them:
- “Houston’s pitching won’t hold up” - That’s the quote from one of the MLB pundits. The team lost ace Justin Verlander last season when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Late in the season, Zack Greinke battled a neck injury. And unfortunately Lance McCullers, Jr. suffered a forearm strain that knocked him out of the post-season. That’s put a lot of pressure on younger guys like Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy.
- “Compromised by free-agent departures” - Another expert, another quote about the Houston Astros. Outfielder George Springer entered free agency after last season, along with Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick. General Manager James Click had big decisions to make - especially when it came to Springer. The financial side of the sport is truly inside baseball, so without getting into details here, Springer moved on, much to the regret of many fans. Reddick left too. The team was able to keep Brantley.
- So much noise - While fans are back in the stands, we’re not talking about an eruption of cheers. The “noise” comes because this is the first season with people at the games since the cheating scandal broke. Depending on the opponent and the crowd, the Astros squad has had constant distractions... booing, signs, actual garbage cans brought to stadiums. It’s really hard to clear your name after having it tarnished so badly. Constant criticism is noise that could have really gotten into the players’ heads.
Except... it didn’t. The Astros know what’s being said about them, but they also know what they can do.
That’s why the 2021 team made it to the ALCS for a fifth straight year. It’s why Houston fans continue to believe even when the experts didn’t. And it’s why we’re now talking about all the reasons this team has earned another World Series bid.
Here are three of them:
- Experience in the clubhouse - The Astros have players who are proven in the post-season. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel are among them. These guys know how to step up at all the right times. Even after some big losses in the ALCS, the team remained focused. That’s where having veteran players in the clubhouse pays off. They know exactly how to best silence the “noise” and that’s with big hits and big defensive plays.
- Talent throughout the roster - We’ve seen some younger players step up in the post-season too. Jose Siri and Kyle Tucker are just a few examples of guys who have made contributions to the team. Yordan Alvarez rightly earned the title of MVP after the ALCS. This is a squad with the depth to excel even without stars like Springer and Verlander.
- Dusty Baker - Baker’s a manager who has led several teams and knows how to navigate difficult circumstances. He’s the first MLB manager to win division titles with five different teams. He’s respected far and wide, and he’s someone people want to succeed (even if they have other feelings about the team in general). With the spark his players bring and Baker’s reputation and leadership, a lot of things have clicked at just the right time for the Astros organization.
By the way, that pundit that correctly predicted the Astros would make it to the World Series also guessed that they’d lose the championship to the Dodgers. He got the National League team wrong. Here’s to hoping he’s wrong about the outcome of the game too.