HOUSTON — The orange-colored crowd was sizzling under the roof of Minute Maid Park. The train was whistling over the Crawford box. Around the field, a small crowd of cheering players turned into a celebratory heap.
For the second time in franchise history, the Houston Astros are World Series champions. This time, they had to win it in front of their adoring fans deep in the heart of Texas.
That part was novel, but much else seemed familiar. For the third time in four seasons, the Major League Baseball season ended in Houston. The Astros have two titles in a six-season span, with the first infamous championship in 2017. In each season between that title and this one, the Astros advanced to at least the ALCS, extending their streak of appearances in that round. Up to a glorious six.
Given these simple facts, an obvious question comes to mind: Are we looking at baseball’s newest dynasty?
The answer depends on how you define the term, but you have to have a title—or anything but neutral—to come up with any answer. These Houston Astros, the champions of baseball, are a dynasty, and the reason goes beyond a simple count of series wins and championship pennants.
In fact, the dictionary definition of a dynasty has less to do with an uninterrupted tenure of dominance than with the concept of succession—one group ruling over others, even as specific identities develop within that group.
In the narrow world of 21st-century American sports, the Astros have achieved a version of this – a six-year period of dominance that featured a rotating core cast of players and executives, but which included five division championships and an annual playoff run. has racked runs
Since 2017, Houston has averaged 98.4 wins per 162 games played. This is a level that few others have reached during the divisional round. The Glavin-Maddux-Smoltz Atlanta Braves hit 100.8 per 162 wins during their best six-year streak. The Jeter-era New York Yankees peaked at 99.9. The Earl Weaver Baltimore Orioles topped at 98.8 and Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 1970s at 99.1.
The Astros’ main current rival for dynastic supremacy is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 105.8 per 162 wins over the last six seasons. This is a level only reached by the Dead Ball era Chicago Shaq. But the Astros have two titles over the Dodgers, one over this span, they beat LA in their only head-to-head postseason matchup in 2017, and they have 52 playoff wins to the Dodgers’ 40. received Only the early 21st century Yankees have. Won more playoff games in six seasons.
It all sounds quite genealogical. Still, what really marks the 2022 Houston Astros as a modern dynasty is that this title team bears little resemblance to their previous title-winning version. Only five members of the 2017 champions are on this year’s roster. The team’s strength and on-field style has evolved. Key decision makers are different.
And, perhaps, the way history will judge this second Astros title team will prove to be very different, as well.
to be sure, a substantial portion of baseball fans will never completely forget some of the Astros past transgressions. That was evident during this playoff run, as even unheralded rookies, such as designated hitter David Hensley, became the target of an irrational course of boos in Philadelphia during the World Series. Nobody even really knew who Hensley was, but there he was down there, wearing that Houston orange. Boo!
But take a closer look at the pile of celebration after the last out on Saturday. Side-by-side pictures of that pile-up and the one after the last out at Dodger Stadium that ended the 2017 series would be exemplary, as very few of the youngsters depicted would be in both photos.
In 2017, Jeremy Pena was a 20-year-old standout shortstop for the University of Maine. No one knew he would be a third-round pick the following June. No one predicted he would become the successor to Carlos Correa, one of the most gifted two-way players in Astros history, and proved more than capable. Among other feats, Pena became the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove, edging out Correa, among others.
In the postseason, Pena was a pillar in the Astros’ title run, hammering four homers and flashing his award-winning defense, all while making himself a once-in-a-lifetime presence in his media appearances. – who presented like a veteran.
“I never looked at it as filling shoes,” Pena said after Game 5. “I just had to come in and be myself, play my game.”
What’s not to like about Jeremy Pena?
Framber Valdez was not in 2017 either. At the time, he was working his way up Houston’s organizational ladder, struggling in Double-A. Now, he’s a Cy Young candidate and World Series hero.
You may hate the Houston Astros, but how can you hate Framber Valdez?
You can go through the same drill with many of the younger core players on the Astros, like Christian Javier, who did the heavy-lifting in Houston’s historic combined no-hitter in Game 4. In 2017, he topped out in High-A.
What about Yordon Alvarez, who hit a huge home run to give the Astros the lead on Saturday night? He didn’t debut in the majors for Houston until 2019 and quickly established himself as one of baseball’s most feared all-around hitters. What about sweet-swinging Kyle Tucker, who debuted in 2018?
What about veteran closers like Ryan Pressley or, for that matter, any pitcher? What about Justin Verlander, who joined the Astros during one of the mildest stretches in franchise history?
For a while, it looked like that would be the legacy of the 2017 team — an inspiration. Verlander was acquired seconds before the wire trade deadline that season, just after the team returned to Houston after being displaced by Hurricane Harvey.
Verlander joins a team in the midst of bonding with a community that has barely begun to deal with the aftermath of the storm. He has become a part of that community while continuing to pitch at a Hall of Fame level.
In fact, any remaining vitriol toward the Houston Astros’ roster is likely directed at the only three current Houston non-pitchers who were in the lineup of the tainted 2017 champions. That is: Bregman, Yuli Gurriel and Altuve.
Bregman has become a fixture in Houston on and off the field and has maintained his status as one of the game’s best third basemen before, during and after the scandal. He held steady even as former All-Star teammates like Correa and George Springer moved on to free-agent riches.
But the story of the current generation of Astros cannot be told without considering Altuve’s long winding journey. He was there before the rebuild that started these Astros. He was there when the conquest began. Heck, he’s been an Astro for so long that the team was still in the National League when he started.
Altuve has been the target of fan scorn over the past few years, along with the rest of his teammates, while remaining the same soft-spoken, almost shy athlete he is. The subject of profanity chants and the loudest boos of any Astros, Altuve has still managed to put up All-Star numbers that may someday reach Hall of Fame-eligible levels.
Altuve is the champion once again. Will things be different for him here? Can fans outside of Houston, where he will always be admired, return to a place of appreciation for one of baseball’s most unique talents?
through all With that, the Astros have evolved not only on the roster sheet, but also in how they approach winning.
The franchise is an organizational baseball machine that has continued to roll after the scandal, both on the field and behind the scenes. James Click, the soft-spoken, analytics-savvy executive, has taken over one of the most accomplished front offices in the game, and under his management, the Astros haven’t missed a beat. In some ways, they’ve even replicated in a higher form, especially given the pitching depth that is the envy of the majors.
Dusty Baker arrived, then, too, and the beloved manager’s very presence restored consistency to the Astros when they badly needed it. Now, in return, his talented club has given Baker his long-sought, career-ending first managerial championship.
Not that he was worried.
“Worry keeps you from sleeping,” Baker said after Houston’s Game 5 win. “And there’s an old saying don’t worry because worry is worrying about yourself. Worrying does no good.”
Through those additions and more, the Astros have been at the forefront of the baseball world thanks to excellence in scouting, development and analytical innovation.
It’s a different team on the field — the 2017 club was more explosive offensively, with a well-rounded lineup of athletic players like Springer and Correa. In 2022, however, the team does less damage on balls in play, relying more on the longball to keep the scoreboard rolling.
The previous Houston champs were a good, not great, run prevention team but, thanks in large part to Click’s focus on pitcher development, the 2022 club is absolutely locked in, ranking among the elite in ERA, runs allowed, strikeouts and walks. is allowed, and defensive efficiency.
It is a different route to the same place. The Astros have cashed in on this long-term success by flipping prospect after prospect and making targeted trades and free-agent signings. They have built this style of roster instead of investing heavily in trying to keep the old core together.
These Astros are not those Astros.
The ongoing iterative process of a great team staying great while reinventing itself one trick at a time begs the question: How long can the Astros stay in disrepute? It has nothing to do with forgiveness or redemption. It’s all about the recognition of a unique, high-performance baseball machine.
Does this championship allow the Astros to completely turn the page on the scandal? The truth is, they don’t have to, because it happened a long time ago. All the Astros, those who were there and those who weren’t, have heard it over the last few years. It doesn’t really matter anymore.
“We don’t really care what the fans think,” Pressley said after Game 5 in Philadelphia, where the vitriol was almost tangible. “Everywhere we go, we get pushed. It’s Houston versus all of you.”
Amidst all the anger and controversy and often too much hate, the Astros have remained just a baseball organization—the best, sure, and maybe the best. In doing so, they have become what the 2017 team seemed very capable of becoming: a dynasty.
Dynasties can disappear very quickly – history is full of examples of people who ruled for a long time and then suddenly disappeared. It could happen to the Astros, too, but don’t bet on it happening soon.
There remains a lot of talent and redundancy in the organization and plenty of smart people still steering the ship in the right direction, with the immediate fate of Baker and Click, whose contracts are expiring, currently unknown.
Baker could certainly decide to retire so he can wait for the call next year to tell him he’s been elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager. But if that happens, the Astros will have their pick of worthy successors, perhaps bench coach Joe Espada, a respected voice on the team who has been passed up several times on baseball’s managerial carousel in recent years.
Talent, minor league depth, financial resources and, perhaps most importantly, systems (analytics, development, scouting) all remain in place. As long as this is the case, there is little reason to think that this motor is going to give out. Love them or hate them, it’s your choice. But the Houston Astros have built one of the most efficient baseball machines of this century.
The dynasty will eventually crumble, as all dynasties do. For now, the Astros have shown everyone, defenders and detractors alike, that this organization is more than a tainted title.
The Astros are not only the champions of the season, but of the current era. They are, in every way, a true baseball dynasty.