by Jules Gonsoulin
editor in chief
If there’s one Major League Baseball team that no one predicted to be playing in the divisional round of the playoffs, it’s the Houston Astros. Plagued by a historically bad record in recent years, in which they lost at least a hundred games more than once, the Astros entered the 2015 campaign hoping to set itself up for success in the near future. At least that’s what the outsiders thought.
The Astros quietly enacted a major overhaul of the organization in the offseason, hiring rookie manager AJ Hinch, who along with other Astros, is nominated for postseason accolades. The front office also promoted former number one overall draft pick, Carlos Correa, to starting shortstop.
Correa has quickly risen to the top of most MLB analysts’ shortstop and rookie rankings, and if it weren’t for Cleveland Indians star Francisco Lindor, Correa would have the AL rookie of the year award just about wrapped up.
One star doesn’t turn a team around overnight though. Supporting Correa on the infield diamond is All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, as well as first baseman and power hitter Cris Carter and catcher Jason Castro. The Astros’ infield has garnered national praise for fancy double plays and exciting catches by the lengthy Correa. This powerful infield lineup is also incredibly gifted at the plate…depending on how you look at it.
The 2015 Astros consistently rank near the top of the American League home run count, as hitters like Altuve, George Springer, and Evan Gattis have flexed their might on great pitchers this season such as Clayton Kershaw and David Price. Through two playoff games, the Astros have relied heavily on home runs to beat the Yankees in the AL wild card game and the Royals in game one of the American League Division Series. This aggressive offensive style, however, results in a lot of strikeouts for the Astros. That’s the Astros’ main concern heading into the postseason, focusing on manufacturing runs instead of relying on Springer and Altuve to crush home runs every game.
The Astros’ strikeout woes have been worse on the road. Houston holds the worst road record in the MLB this season, and the second worst road record of a post-season eligible team since 1900.
However, a late season push including road wins over the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks has re-invigorated the Astros. The confident squad marched into the Bronx for their first postseason appearance since 2005, and absolutely dominated the aging Yankees.
Going forward in the playoffs, the Astros look to have trade deadline acquisition and center fielder Carlos Gomez ready to play consistent baseball. The former Milwaukee Brewer has sat out for most of the late season push with a sore intercostal muscle. Gomez started against the Yankees and hit a home run, but later complained of worsening pain. He initially sat out against the Royals in game one, but later came in to pinch run for designated hitter Evan Gattis.
The Astros’ pitching staff will also be a key factor going forward. Hinch plans to start ace and likely Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel against the Royals in game three in Houston, where Keuchel is virtually unbeatable. He’s 15-0 at home, and his impressive showing at Yankee Stadium has the rest of the AL afraid to face him. Lance McCullers, Scott Kazmir, Berry College graduate Collin McHugh, and Mike Fiers look to anchor the back end of the rotation.
The Astros will try to close out the series with the Kansas City Royals this weekend, vying for an appearance in the championship series to play either the Toronto Blue Jays or the Texas Rangers. A matchup with Toronto would be highly favorable for the Astros over one with Texas, as the Rangers have made life tough on the Astros all season long.