Halftime Sports

It’s the Astros’ Year: A World Series Preview

October 24, 2017


Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

The Fall Classic has finally arrived, and with it, so have the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers and Astros both surpassed 100 wins this season, marking the first time since 1970 that the World Series will be played by two 100+ win teams. This is merely one of the numerous side-plots surrounding this year’s World Series. The Dodgers have not raised the Commissioner’s Trophy, or even made it to the World Series, since 1988, when Kirk Gibson fist pumped his way into postseason immortality. The Astros, on the other hand, have never been lucky enough to call themselves champions, and appear poised to fulfill a 2014 Sports Illustrated prophecy predicting they would win the 2017 World Series.

Houston has become the Cinderella story over which American sports fanatics salivate. Just a few years ago they were the worst team in the MLB and were forced to move from the National League to the American League. Upon their move to the AL, Sports Illustrated published a bold article predicting the Astros would hoist a 2017 World Series Champions banner. Many at the time merely interpreted the article as a testament to how well the Astros had built their farm system through the draft and trades. Now, however, it appears journalist Ben Reiter was not only correct about how well the Astros’ young prospects would develop, but that they would also give the organization a chance to win its first World Series. In addition to their worst-to-first miracle turnaround, the Astros are competing for the championship just months after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. They are not only playing for themselves and the Astros’ organization, but the people of Houston. The series is no longer about the players and their personal motives, but bringing home a championship to H-Town in the wake of its greatest tragedy. A championship for Houston would yet again show the resiliency of the American people and warm the hearts of millions.

At the heart of the Astros’ young core is its dynamic middle infield combo of Carlos Correa, 23 years old, and Jose Altuve, 27 years old. Both hit over .300 during the regular season, earning Altuve his fourth consecutive season with a +.300-batting average, and giving Correa his first, likely of many. In addition to their insane regular seasons, the wonder-twins have stayed hot throughout playoffs, accounting for a combined eight homers, 17 RBI, and .345 average.

Houston’s pitching staff serves as a compliment to their lethal lineup. Newly added ace, and ALCS MVP, Justin Verlander has solidified himself as having the hottest hand on the pitching staff with a postseason ERA of 1.46. Verlander’s dominance has overshadowed the performance of Lance McCullers Jr. and Dallas Keuchel, who have had outstanding postseasons in their own right; boasting ERAs of 2.08 and 2.60, respectively. However, the Astros’ main cause for apprehension is the reliability of their bullpen. During two of the ALCS games they allowed the Yankees to stage improbable comebacks. Closer Ken Giles’ ERA has jumped from 2.30 during the regular season to 7.50 during the postseason, reflecting the consequence of the Yankee’s late comebacks.

Without a doubt, the Astros have their work cut out for them. They are faced with the task of toppling the Los Angeles Dodgers, led by the game’s most dominant pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and his fellow fireballers. During the regular season, Kershaw posted a 2.31 ERA and racked up 202 strikeouts, while Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and Yu Darvish posted 2.72, 3.32, and 3.44 ERAs, respectively. The Dodgers also have the hottest closer in the game right now, Kenley Jansen, who has a 1.32 ERA, 109 strikeouts, and 41 saves.

Not only do the Dodgers have the most dominant pitching staff in the league, they also have one of the most explosive lineups, featuring likely NL Rookie of the Year Corey Bellinger, possible NL MVP Justin Turner, and the always exciting Yasiel Puig. Bellinger’s stellar rookie campaign has been shadowed by that of Aaron Judge, but is not any less impressive. Bellinger totaled 39 homers, 97 RBI, and a .267 average in only his first season in the Majors. Turner had almost equally impressive numbers with 21 home runs, 71 RBI, and a .322 average. Puig has bounced back from his dismal 2016 season and reminded us he is still one of the game’s most electric players. The Cuban’s regular season was a vast improvement from 2016; he hit 28 homers, 74 RBI, and batted .263 this year. However, his postseason has been that of legend. Puig is hitting .414 with 1 HR and 6 RBI, leading not only his team in postseason batting average, but also all players in the World Series with at least 20 at bats.

This is one of the most evenly matched championship series in recent memory. Both teams have dominant pitching rotations and lineups full of firepower from top to bottom. Each has proven they are the undisputed kings of their respective conferences and each is thirsty to end their World Series drought. While logic and statistics appear to be in favor of the Dodgers, I predict the Astros will win the World Series.

Maybe I am just a sucker for the feel-good, redemption story, but these Astros look like a championship team. Their three-game skid against the Yankees only proved that they were capable of coming from behind to win a series. While others see these struggles as a sign of the Astros’ weaknesses, I see them as a sign of their resiliency and unrelenting desire to be crowned “World Champions.” The baseball gods have a way of granting favor to those who have overcome tragedy (the 2013 World Series Red Sox following the Boston Marathon bombing) or endured insufferable curses (last year’s Cubs ending a 108-year-old drought). The stars seemed to have aligned perfectly for the Astros to provide the sports world with one of its greatest stories yet. The Houston Astros, perennial laughingstock of the NL, switch to the AL and fulfill a Sports Illustrated prophecy from four years prior predicting their victory, only a few months after Houston was decimated by a hurricane. This is the type of story ESPN will turn into a 30 for 30 years later. The narrative is too perfect for the them to not win; fate appears to have smiled upon the Houston Astros.

All superstitions aside, the Houston Astros have the stingiest lineup Kershaw and his Dodgers have faced all year, led by the 5’6” no-brainer MVP Jose Altuve and his band of hard-hitting youngsters. Additionally, the Astros have the hottest pitcher in the game right now in Justin Verlander, and the toughest starting rotation the Dodgers have played all season long. This is sure to be one of the best World Series in recent memory, and despite the odds being stacked against them, the Astros will find a way to win, just as they have all year long.

 

All statistics from ESPN

Photo: David J. Phillip/AP



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