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SI: Why the Astros will repeat next season as World Series champions

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by mightybosstone, Nov 2, 2017.

  1. mightybosstone

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    Another great Astros-friendly article from Ben Reiter...

    YOUR 2018 CHAMPS: Why the Astros Will Repeat Next Season as World Series Champions
    By Ben Reiter

    LOS ANGELES—It all started with Springer. Anyone with the Astros will tell you that.

    When Jeff Luhnow and his crew of rebuilders arrived in Houston before the 2012 season, George Springer was already there. No, not in Houston, yet; he was still two years from reaching the big leagues. But he was in A-Ball, after Ed Wade’s ousted regime had drafted him 11th overall in June 2011 and left him for the ravaged organization as a parting gift. Springer was the type of player, with every tool you could want, with whom and around whom you might make something.

    Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel were there, too, and part of the new leadership’s genius was that it was smart enough not to dispense of them—even if it got rid of most everything else—because back then they looked like a slap hitter and a soft tosser and little more. But Springer looked like a star. If the front office ever allowed itself to dream of a championship, he was the person they imagined raising the trophy.

    When Sports Illustrated imagined, three and a half years ago, the event that would occur this autumn, Springer was at the center of it, too. He was the player we put on the cover—partly because his swing was so photogenic, especially when he took it wearing those throwback, rainbow uniforms. But if there was anyone likely to last through the resolution of our prediction—to force it into reality, in fact—it was him.

    He was named the World Series MVP on Wednesday night, after the Astros’ unexpectedly easy, 5-1 Game 7 thrashing of the Dodgers, and there was no other choice. He had eight extra base hits, an all-time World Series record. He accumulated 29 extra bases, a record. He hit five home runs, tying a record. He homered in four straight World Series games, the last four, the only player to do that other than Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson. It all ran though him. “A crazy journey,” he said in the cigar smoke-filled visiting clubhouse. “A wild ride. The organization has come so far in three years.”

    Here is the disturbing part, for the rest of baseball: the journey was not designed to end now. They didn’t spend all those seasons in baseball purgatory or somewhere worse—“Through the lean years, I wouldn’t have even wanted to come as a fan,” Keuchel said earlier this month—for a single shot at a championship, one and done. If their run of 106-plus losses between 2011 and `13 represented the nadir, then 2017 alone was never meant to represent the summit, but the first peak in a tightly-packed range.

    It’s harder than ever to win back-to-back titles, in a Wild Card era with an exhausting and randomizing playoff structure. The Yankees won three in a row, between 1998 and 2000. The Blue Jays won two, in `92 and `93. Those were the only times it’s happened since the 70s. If any team is built to do it, it’s these Astros.

    In fact, the Astros’ only offensive free agents of note are Cameron Maybin, a late season addition to the bench, and Carlos Beltran, who for $16 million this year provided more in the way of wisdom and discipline than production—though the wisdom and discipline was invaluable—and whose lessons are now well absorbed as he probably departs, perhaps for retirement, with the ring he’s sought for so long.

    “It only took 20 years to get to this position,” he said on the field on Wednesday night, a championship cap on his head and his young son, who kept playing with his father’s ear, in his arms. “It’s a great future here. You look at the ballclub, you look at every position, you see guys that can impact the game and be impact players for a long time.”

    While they might add a major free agent piece to their lineup—someone with Beltran’s savvy, perhaps, but also a still-lively bat—it will sooner or later be buoyed by the promotion of Top-10 prospect Kyle Tucker, who is 20, or by an increase in playing time for the 24-year-old five-tool threat Derek Fisher. Both those players are lefthanded prospects, which is important, as the Astros four centerpieces all bat from the right. That’s no coincidence. Everything is by design. The offense isn’t going anywhere.

    Neither is the rotation. Keuchel and Charlie Morton are both on board for next year. Lance McCullers—the Game 7 starter—is under control until 2022. Behind them is a pair of quickly rising prospects: 20-year-old Forrest Whitley, who stands 6’7” and struck out nearly 14 batters per nine in the minors this year; and 21-year-old Francis Martes, who wet his feet, mostly in relief, with the big club this summer but whom Baseball America last winter named the game’s 20th best prospect.

    The key, at least in the near term, is Justin Verlander, whom the Astros acquired from the Tigers with two seconds to spare before the August 31 deadline. A lot was made of the enormity of the contract the Astros were assuming: $28 million in each of the next two years for a pitcher who turns 35 in February. It’s a hefty sum, even if the Tigers are picking up $8 million a year. But here’s the proper way to look at it: were Verlander, who went 9-1 with a 1.66 ERA for the Astros in the regular season and playoffs combined, a free agent this winter, you couldn’t possibly sign him, nor anyone else like him, for just two seasons. You’d have to give him perhaps five years, probably at an average annual value that exceeds $20 million—knowing that a few of those late-30s years would probably be wasted. Even accounting for the three talented prospects the Astros gave up for him, it was a good deal—and is almost certain to continue to be so for the next two years, in which he’ll remain the alpha dog and a Beltran-like influence.

    Luhnow and Verlander walked off the field and into the increasingly humid clubhouse together. “Two more to go,” the G.M. told his still new ace.

    Then of course: the bullpen. Something’s got to be done about the bullpen. It wasn’t good during the regular season, with a 4.27 ERA ranking 17th overall. It was much worse during the playoffs, and it’ll lose Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson and Francisco Liriano, though they were all rarely used. Still, Ken Giles almost certainly won’t continue to be the Ken Giles of the past month. Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh could relinquish their spots in a newly deepened rotation only to excel in the `pen. Joe Musgrove, spotty during the playoffs but a shutdown reliever over the second half, should continue to develop in that way too; he’s only 24. They could certainly use a lefty—maybe two—to replace Liriano and the effective Tony Sipp. Jake McGee and Tony Watson, the latter of whom watched Game 7 from the Dodgers’ dugout, are the cream of the free agent crop. Their agents ought to answer calls from a Houston area code this winter.

    The front office’s genius was that it realized that hard data meant a lot, and it conjured all sorts of new ways to harness it, but it also realized that it wasn’t nearly everything. What scouts saw and processed the old-fashioned way, via their eyes and their experience, mattered just as much, if not more. That was why the Astros ended up with players like Bregman and Correa, who are never afraid even though they are just 23, and who will drive them to the future.

    G.M. Jeff Luhnow, assistant G.M. Mike Elias, special assistants Kevin Goldstein (the scouting guru) and Sig Mejdal (the data guru)—not to mention an analytics department, nicknamed the Nerd Cave, that has now swelled to nine members—will remain. The only way any of them likely to leave now is if they’re offered the top job somewhere else, as Luhnow was when he was with the Cardinals, and as Luhnow’s former assistant David Stearns was by the Brewers. That, of course, is a greater likelihood today than it was yesterday.

    But the Astros are the kings, and they’re unusually well-positioned to hang onto the crown even as all those usurpers come for them. It all goes back to Springer. He was the seed from which all of this bloomed.

    In the clubhouse, a goggles-wearing Luhnow stood mere feet from where the MVP was surrounded by reporters.

    “When Springer arrived in the big leagues, in `14—well, there’s a Seinfeld episode, the Summer of George,” the G.M. said. “He infused such great energy into our team, that from that point I knew it’d be up, not down.”

    Now there’s nowhere left to climb, just an altitude to maintain. This team is not just YOUR 2017 CHAMPS. Here’s a new prediction. We’re looking at YOUR 2018 CHAMPS, too. We might as well get to work on a new cover.

    That was for tomorrow. Someone passed Springer the trophy. He raised it over his head and shouted to his teammates. “Here it is!” he screamed. They all roared back.
     
    htownrox1, SLRokJok, mario_v and 6 others like this.
  2. conquistador#11

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    Back to back and a seinfeld reference! life doesn't get any better.
     
    mightybosstone likes this.
  3. BleedsRocketRed

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    Those June 30th 2014 SI issues are going for some crazy money on eBay right now lol
     
  4. Harrisment

    Harrisment too weird to live, too rare to die
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    I bet. Wish I had one now.
     
  5. DudeWah

    DudeWah Contributing Member

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    I got a little teary eyed reading that.
     
    mightybosstone likes this.
  6. jim1961

    jim1961 Member

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    In order to address next years results, you have to look at next years players. Is it realistic that we can expect our top 5 or 6 guys to match their 2017 production? Will there be a break out guy (Moran/Reed/Fisher/Tucker/Kemp/Davis/White) or someone new on the scene (Whitley)?

    I agree we should be in the conversation for a while, but that isn't the same as naming them next years WS winners. I think you have to look at what happened this past year, both the helpful and not, and gauge (guess) what is likely to happen again and which is not.
     
    #6 jim1961, Nov 2, 2017
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  7. YOLO

    YOLO Member

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    our core guys were injured for a significant portion of the season. all except the mvp tuve who's been consistent year after year. his production should surprise no one. matching production isn't going to be out of the reach when those guys are young and still have much room to improve.
     
  8. DudeWah

    DudeWah Contributing Member

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    We have some damn good prospects still.

    I totally believe in Moran and White. Even Fisher still.

    Tucker is still a while off.

    And then we have Martes and Whitley.

    And we have cap space!!!

    And Jake will be playing!!

    List of needs:
    -LHP in relief
    -DH to share time with Gattis
    -Lights out closer
     
  9. mightybosstone

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    That's fair. I think certain guys definitely overperformed their expected value—mainly Reddick, Marwin and possibly Morton and Peacock. But I think the three key hitters (Altuve, Springer and Correa) aren't likely to see some huge dip in production, and Bregman is likely due for a breakout season after coming on strong in the latter half of the season. Throw in consistency of older guys like Yuli and McCann and some unexpected up-and-comer, whether it's Fisher or Tucker, and the lineup should still be incredibly potent.

    The pitching is where there are obviously more question marks. Keuchel and McCullers' first half production wasn't sustainable, and it's safe to say at this point that both guys are probably going to miss a good chunk of games in most seasons moving forward. Throw in guys like Morton and Peacock, who no one would have predicted would be such key pieces to a World Series run a year ago, and there's definitely some unknowns there. But having a full season of Verlander, even at his age, is huge. And with a lot of dead weight coming off the books (mainly Beltran, Liriano, Clippard and Gregerson), Lunhow should have some funds to address the bullpen problems. And, yes, there's still young guys like Whitley and Martes who could end up having an impact next year.
     
    jim1961 likes this.
  10. Texanasiafan

    Texanasiafan Member

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  11. jim1961

    jim1961 Member

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    There are certainly some guys on the bubble in the sense that we have the option to keep around or move. There might be a guy who had great 2017 numbers that isn't likely to repeat. Sell high or keep? Or guys whose value is low presently that might be ready to explode.

    I agree that our pitching staff will get the lions share of the spotlight this off-season, as it should. One has to wonder whether we might go after starters only given how relievers faired in this WS. Could it become a trend, that we set, in having more 3-4 inning type of pen guys than the more traditional 1-2 inning guys? Going after the best arms rather than let previous roles define what (who) we should be considering or not? A couple more Morton like acquisitions look pretty good right now.
     
    mightybosstone likes this.
  12. mraznb0i

    mraznb0i Member

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  13. BleedsRocketRed

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  14. tochiee22

    tochiee22 Contributing Member

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  15. mightybosstone

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  16. JayGoogle

    JayGoogle Member

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    *Looks over to Daryl Morey*

    Maybe...just maybe...realize that 2 point shots have some value in our offense?
     
    CrushCity likes this.
  17. Derp McFlopsky

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    It's still celebration time. But looking ahead is going to be interesting. Seems like the infield is set, CF too. Seems like the starting side of pitching is pretty set but the end of games is going to need addressing after Giles meltdown.

    I didn't really see enough regular season games this year to comment too much on developing prospects but the tank is not empty and the core really just started. If not back to back, it certainly seems reasonable to think another chip is on the way sooner than later.
     
  18. Snow Villiers

    Snow Villiers Member

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    We should go after Stanton to replace Reddick if Tucker isn't ready.:eek::D:eek:
     
  19. DarkHorse

    DarkHorse Contributing Member

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    The first one is a salty article, but the second is actually a very good article praising the Astros and talking about how hard it is to win in baseball and how impressive that they pulled it off.
     
  20. Texanasiafan

    Texanasiafan Member

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    Just because the Dodgers left many RISP in game 7 doesn't mean they actually deserved better result, the Astros had been out hit them the whole series and in the first 6 games, we also left tons of RISP and failed to cash in.

    Most of the RISP yesterday are related to the wild pitches of Lance (4 HBP), and once Peacock and Morton settled down, the Dodgers didn't hit jack.

    Also saying Dodgers failed to hit Peacock's fastballs inside the zone for missing the chances is like saying the Astros were taking way too many strikes right down the middle, that doesn't make any sense.

    Bottom line is, there is no doubt our team out performed the Dodgers almost in every single aspect of the game (except the pen), they got beat by a clear better team.
     
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