This has been a very difficult year for the Houston Astros. It began with the loss of one of their ace pitchers to free agency followed unceremoniously by a cheating scandal and the firing of both the architect of the team and their beloved manager. Then, the entire season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. If that weren't enough, they lost both Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez along with closer Roberto Osuna to season ending injuries.
The result was a rough 60-game season as they finished as one of only two teams in baseball history to make the playoffs with a losing record. If not for the expanded playoffs, their season would have ended before the postseason. Instead, they swept the Twins in the wild card round and buried the A's in the ALDS under an avalanche of runs.
They seemed to regain some of the playoff magic they had harnessed over the past few seasons. Then, they went down 0-3 to Tampa Bay, the team with the best record. Instead of folding, they came roaring back with three straight wins, but former Astro Charlie Morton would put the final nail in their coffin in game seven. Here are the winners and losers from a wild and surprising season.
Springer has become one of the best power hitters (and leadoff hitters) in postseason baseball history. He was also the Astros best player in this virus-shortened season. It will almost certainly translate into him becoming the highest paid outfielder signed this offseason. Will he get Mookie Betts money? Probably not, but he is going to get a Brinks truckload, and it is unlikely that cash will flow out of Minute Maid Park. Springer has been the heart and soul of this Astros franchise along with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Seeing them broken up will be tough on fans, but we should all be prepared for that inevitability.
The Astros entered the season understanding they would have to rely on some young arms, particularly out of the bullpen, after the offseason losses. Soon, it would get worse with the injuries to Verlander and Osuna. And, yet, their pitching staff became their strength, particularly in the ALCS. They seemed to find legit starters in players like Christian Javier and Jose Urquidy, while Framber Valdez came into his own and, arguably, the best starter this season. The pen added Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb. With Lance McCullers, what once felt like a huge weakness could now be a strength.
Without question, Correa was the team's MVP in the postseason. He was their best hitter and continues to be one of the best defensive infielders in the game. More important, the young shortstop became a leader. After a number of injury-shortened seasons (including a bizarre massage rib break), he came into this season more focused. After the cheating scandal happened, Correa emerged as a sharp-tongued spokesman for the team, not mincing words and willing to take on anyone who challenged his team. When he went to the mound during the ALCS and got into the face of Framber Valdez, his transformation from star player to team leader was complete.
Outside Houston, no one was rooting for the Astros. Nobody. Never mind that other teams were caught doing similar things. Never mind that the kind of sign stealing the Astros were busted doing apparently is rampant in baseball, we all knew Houston would suffer. They would be the team everyone made an example of. The fact that fans didn't get to boo them because games were played in empty buildings only made it worse. In the end, fans got what they wanted even if the Astros were ultimately in the MLB final four and one game away from another trip to the World Series.
When Click took the job of GM, he had to have known it was going to be difficult. The team was coming off multiple record setting seasons and had a core built from the round up that produced incredible results. But we have to wonder if he factored in just how stiff the team's financial flexibility would be. It is likely the Astros will lose two of their three starting outfielders and they will have to pay Verlander a ton of money next season to rehab from surgery. It is undoubtedly going to be one of the most challenging offseasons in years and Click has found himself in the deep end. Here's hoping he knows how to swim.
The Astros had relied on stalwarts on the mound for several seasons. From Gerrit Cole and Verlander to Zack Greinke, Osuna, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton and Will Harris. Only Greinke factored into this year's team for the entire season and playoffs. Now, a new crop of players are taking their place, which is a hopeful sign for the team, but a rough spot for more long-tenured players who are still in Houston.
Jose Altuve, Second Baseman
Admittedly, Altuve had a tough year at the plate, perhaps the worst of his career. But, what was even more surprising was how he suddenly couldn't even manage to toss a simple out to first baseman Yuli Gurriel. The word "yips" began making the rounds when describing the all-world second baseman and it was shocking. Perhaps it was just a lapse in confidence an offseason and spring training can solve. Let's hope so.
Houston baseball fans have been forced to endure a tremendous amount of heartbreak over the last 12 months starting with a loss at home in Game 7 of the World Series and ending with a loss in Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS. Everything in between was just misery on top of misery. Maybe it's just better that this whole thing is over so fans can get on with their lives. It's unlikely they will ever forget this time with this team.