Alex Bregman is one of the major reasons the Astros are better than they were in 2017.
Alex Bregman is one of the major reasons the Astros are better than they were in 2017.
Photo by Jack Gorman

Astros Are Better Than Last Year Despite Struggles to Clinch AL West

Late into the night Tuesday, the Astros learned their magic number to win the division had dropped to zero. On the postgame show after their second straight win in Toronto, Alex Bregman all but predicted they'd be "popping corks" soon after. With that win and an A's loss, the Astros clinched their second straight division title and the champagne started flowing.

They have also won 100 games for the second straight season. Astros beat reporter Brian McTaggert tweeted last night that the Astros have become only the fifth World Series winner to follow up a title with 100 wins. The other four all returned to the championship series and two of them won it again.

When you look over the long season, it is hard not to look at some of the struggles and not be amazed this team has a very good chance to tie or break the franchise record of 102 wins they set back in 1998. Nevermind the fact that last year's team only won 101.

But, here's the thing. This team is better than 2017 and so is the American League.

Last season, the Astros basically ran away with the AL. They certainly crushed their own division, leading by double digits as early as June. The only team to challenge them in wins was the Dodgers, who held the league's best record, but lost to the Astros in seven games in the World Series.

Truth is, this season feels tougher because it was. The Astros have been in a legitimate division race with the Oakland A's for well over a month. Seattle hung on for much longer than most thought they would. There is already one other 100-win team and there will likely be one more in the Yankees.

Despite all that, the Astros will be the second best team in the AL. They have the best pitching staff in baseball. They are still a ridiculously dangerous offensive team. Despite their struggles at home, they were only two games off last season's pace at Minute Maid Park in the end. They won more road games in two seasons than any other team in MLB history.

They are good. Don't doubt it for a second.

Now, they will need to continue to get great starting pitching. They will need timely hitting. They will need to remain reasonably healthy. And their bullpen will remain strong. But, if they do, there is no doubt they have everything it takes to win another title.

Fans and writers like myself have worried they weren't the same team they were in 2017. Justin Verlander thinks they are better, perhaps the best team in Astros history.

He might be right.

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