Note: this post is part two of a week-long series highlighting the rooting interest of each of the four teams in MLB’s League Championship Series. ICYMI: The Case for Tampa Bay
They may be the least popular Major League Baseball team in a decade. They went 55 seasons before winning their first World Series in 2017, then managed to lose all of their arduously won credibility in the span of 25 months. They were at the forefront of the modern analytics revolution and they can slap a trash can like nobody’s business. They’re the Houston Astros, and… well, they don’t all suck?
Seriously, hear me out. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you to root for the lineup that flaunted the time-honored rules of baseball “with arrogance and impunity.” But there are some fun things about this Astros team that should not be overlooked. Here’s the case for the A.L. West runner-up Astros.
1. Framber and the Boys
It may be the same H on their caps, but otherwise the 2020 Houston pitching staff looks nothing like it did in their last few playoff runs. In fact, the bullpen now bears more of a resemblance to a triple-A squad than the ‘Stros of old. That would be because eight of the ten relievers on their ALCS roster are rookies.
But these kids aren’t too shabby. Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Cristian Javier, Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor have combined for a 0.96 ERA in 18.2 innings so far in the playoffs with nine hits, nine walks and 24 strikeouts. Filling out the rotation, the Astros have relied upon Jose Urquidy, another rookie, and Framber Valdez, a 26-year-old flamethrower who made his postseason debut this year. Valdez threw six great innings on Sunday, allowing just two runs against the deep Rays lineup, and Urquidy started tonight’s game.
When I look at these guys—none of whom were around for the infamous 2017 season—all I see are talented young players having the time of their lives in the playoffs. If Houston makes it to the World Series, their performance will certainly be a story worth watching.
2. Do it for Dusty
When Dusty Baker was let go by the Nationals in 2017, it looked like it might be the end of the road for the veteran manager. He had spent 22 years as a big-league skipper, including six with the Reds, four with the Cubs and 10 with the Giants, where he was named National League Manager of the year three times. He’s the winningest African-American manager in MLB history, and one of the all-around classiest figures the sport has ever seen (if you don’t mind a little gentlemanly spittin’ and chewin’).
Then, despite winning 192 games over two seasons in Washington, his contract was not renewed. He spent the next two years as a special advisor with San Francisco before being hired out of nowhere to fill the sudden void in Houston left by A.J. Hinch’s firing. This year, he overcame a slew of injuries to become the first manager ever to lead five different teams to the playoffs.
Now Baker is four wins away from reaching the second Fall Classic of his career. But at 70 years old and on a club that’s trending downward, it’s likely his last chance to win that elusive first ring. Could this be the year that Dusty finally breaks through?
3. The Correa Approach
I’ve given you the two best reasons to root for the Astros as an honest fan. But of course, there’s always the opposite approach, which has been seemingly adopted by shortstop Carlos Correa. That would be simply rooting for Houston for the sake of chaos.
They cheated, and yes, they got away with it. They used technology to their advantage and it got them a World Series win. Now, they have a chance to win another. As Correa so famously put it after their sweep of the Twins a few weeks ago, “What are they gonna say now?”
Personally, I’m not convinced of the long-term benefits of this strategy. But I can respect the commitment to playing the heel—and I can’t deny that seeing them earn a 2017 World Series rematch against the Dodgers next week would be EXCELLENT TV. After all, the Astros are nothing if not entertaining.
BONUS POINTS: Game four starter Zack Greinke is the master of the 69-mph pitch.