The past four seasons in Major League Baseball have seen only one team, the 2016 Minnesota Twins, lose at least 100 games. In a long, 162 game season, the act of losing 100 games in a single season is hitting the lowest depths one could find. Not being able to win, about 39 percent of the games you play, it is embarrassing. For three straight seasons (2011-2013), the Houston Astros accomplished this “feat,” losing a combined 324 games. Not even a move from the National League to the American League seem to improve the team. In fact, it might have made it tougher, as it seemed like the team was only getting worse, losing 106 games in 2011, 107 the next year and 111 in their first season in the AL.
But now here we are. After opening up the decade with a level of on the field play that harkens back to some of the worst teams in more than a century of professional baseball, the Houston Astros sits at the top of the baseball world. They sit there in large part because of those three awful seasons that led the franchise to take a new direction into the modern age of sabermetrics when the team started to rebuild their roster.
This rebuilding of the roster began back in 2011. By mid-July, the soon to be 100 loss organization bought up a 5’6 middle infielder who was originally thought of as too small, but eventually became the heart and soul of their championship run. Second baseman Jose Altuve has gone from being looked down upon to looking down from the constellations, because the Venezuelan athlete has become a MVP favorite year after year.
Altuve was the base for what would become a young, talented Houston roster that was both built through high draft picks and smart front office moves. Shortstop Carlos Correa, who had garnered comparisons to yet another Latin American shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, was selected by Houston first overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. Forty picks later, the team would select pitcher Lance McCullers Jr, who saved game seven of the American League Championship Series and started the seventh game of the World Series. The year prior, the Astros used their No. 11 overall pick to selected outfielder and World Series MVP George Springer, from Connecticut.
Third baseman, Alex Bregman, was selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Aside from high draft picks and youthful exuberance, the general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff added a string of veterans to even out the roster. In their prime, outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran and catcher Brian McCann put up numbers that make them a serious topic for Hall of Fame discussion upon retirement. With little left in their tank and still without a World Series title, the two became the elder statesmen for the young roster. Outfielders Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Reddick, known more for defensive abilities, had their best season at the plate.
There is a reason why this team ended the season with 101 wins and holding the top spot for almost every statistical offensive category. But the move that told the baseball world, “This is our year!” had to be the last minute trade for Detroit Tigers ace pitcher, Justin Verlander. Now with a pitching staff almost as skilled as their bats, the stage was set.
Houston blitzed through the Boston Red Soxs, leaving the team unable to handle the fire power their lineup had to offer. Then, the Astros staved off two elimination games against the red-hot New York Yankees, carrying them to a showdown with the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And like the Yankees series, games swung back and forth. Two of Houston’s four wins came in extra innings when the lineup was able to knock around Dodgers’ All-Star closer, Kenley Jansen. The other two victories were the results of Houston’s offense knocking around another All-Star pitcher and former division rival, Yu Darvish. Houston smacked Darvish so bad, that his two World Series starts could not see the end of the second inning. There have been World Series where a single player has been dominant, such as David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran in his youth, but never has a team been so great.
Three years ago, Sports Illustrated magazine released on the final day of June, a cover that featured a rookie George Springer and the headline, “Your 2017 World Series Champions” to reflect this youth movement in the Houston organization. With free agency, expiring contracts and threats of injury looming over every team, dynasties are impossible to predict. Yet, if one team has a stage set to run off two or three more titles before the inevitable breakup, it is the Houston Astros.