The Houston Astros are 27 outs away from clinching their second World Series title in three seasons, with a window open for a run at one or two more over the next couple years. It's a great time to be an Astros fan, and despite some pretty unsavory stuff from their front office in the last couple of weeks, as they tried to murder the career of a female sportswriter by accusing her of fake news in the Brandon Taubman situation, I am able to separate the players from the front office, when it comes to my rooting interests.
The guys on the roster, and the coaching staff, for that matter, seem like largely, genuinely good dudes. Most of them are very easy to root for. The question becomes, even for the players who I personally admire the most, whom do I trust to make the necessary plays, throw the necessary strikes, grind out the necessary at bats in order to win a title?
We've been knocking that question around for the last couple weeks on my radio show, because the fact of the matter is that, when the Astros were down 2-0 to the Nationals in the World Series, they were sitting on a team batting average with runners in scoring position of .125 (8 for 64) since the beginning of the ALCS. Also, the bullpen had its shaky parts, and even Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander were showing signs of being human, For being in the World Series, a place 28 other teams would kill to be, it was not fun.
It made me take inventory and truly assess which players were going to help turn this ship around, and bring home another title. From there, the Houston Astros Circle of Trust was born, with a hat tip to Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents ....
Now, in that movie, the Circle of Trust was the foundation of a (weird and dysfunctional) relationship between father and son in law. Here, it's about the psychological relationship between fan and player, and the simple question is this —- can I FULLY trust you to do YOUR job to the appropriate level of expectation?
In other words, I am not asking Robinson Chirinos, for example, to be Mike Piazza, I just need the occasional extra base hit and for him to handle the pitchers as deftly as he did in the regular season. Hence, throughout the ALCS and early World Series, Chirinos was OUT of the Circle of Trust. However, after two home runs in two games over the weekend, he is back in! Yes, the Circle is fluid. VERY fluid. Yes, I dole out trust like it's candy, and retract it like it's a stack of $100 bills. That's the fun part, the whimsy!
So, with Game 6 looming tonight, who are the players in my Astros Circle of Trust? Here we go....
He's been the best pitcher in baseball since the beginning of June, just ahead of his teammate Justin Verlander, so that's the standard that Cole is held to, for CoT purposes. One subpar outing in Game 1 was not enough to get him booted out, and he solidified his spot with Sunday's gem in Game 5. If he comes in as a reliever in Game 7, I trust Cole will put the clamps on whatever poor bastard is batting.
Greinke was outside the CoT before Game 3, but he gets in on the strength of his one run performance last Friday, pitching out of jams, and most of all, his willingness to nearly decapitate Juan Soto with a fast ball. I liked that!
I hope Jose Urquidy goes on to have a long and fruitful career as a Houston Astro. He was a guy called up in the second half of the season, asked to make starts here and there, and some were really good, some were poor. That said, he's been dialed in nicely this postseason, and his Game 4 start will cement, at the very least, Brandon Backe-type status in Houston forever.
Knocking on the Circle Door: Justin Verlander. Before you go nuts that Urquidy is in the CoT right now, and Verlander is out, remember that the CoT is based on MY level of trust that you will perform YOUR job to the appropriate expectation level for YOUR talents. Verlander is expected to be elite, expected to be the best. He is 1-3 this postseason, and can't get out of a first inning unscathed to save his life. Thus, I don't entirely trust him right now. A winning performance in Game 6, and he is dancing back into the CoT, fear not, Stros fan!
It should be noted that no position group in baseball has higher CoT volatility than relief pitcher, especially situational relievers. That said, Harris has been so good this postseason, you could name the CoT after him. I have listeners that think Harris himself should decide who is in the CoT, he's been that good. Let's hope he keeps it up for another inning or two.
Credit Joe Smith, who not only came back from a terrible Achilles injury this past offseason, but has become the most trustworthy reliever not named "Will Harris." That funny sidearm delivery is a nasty trait for A.J. Hinch to mix in after hitters just faced Cole or Verlander all evening.
Knocking on the Circle Door: Roberto Osuna. The standard for fully trusting a closer, to the level that said closer is in the CoT, is damn near perfection. Osuna is still far from perfect, and I still feel a little queasy when he comes into games. Thus, he is out (for now).
Jose Altuve would have to literally murder someone (which, of course, would generate a denial from the Astros and a claim of "fabrication," despite the bloody murder weapon sitting in his locker) to ever get banished from the CoT.
Bregman is not far behind Altuve in terms of CoT expulsion immunity, but man was he testing the limits, until he hit that grand slam on Saturday night.
Yuli is the quintessential CoT darling. He will probably never be an All-Star, but I trust him for at least one gigantic hit every couple days, and the leather he's been flashing at first base this series has been sublime!
Knocking on the Circle Door: Carlos Correa. I have lot of people hitting me on Twitter about Correa, saying that my keeping him out is personal, for some reason. I don't know Carlos Correa, but I do find his fiancee's YouTube channel to be a tad quirky, and his appearances on there to be completely awkward. However, his sitting outside the CoT has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the fact that he has struck out 24 of 60 at bats in the postseason. That's a roughly 240 strikeout pace for a full season. He needs to make more consistent contact before I can TRUST him.
Springer, like Bregman, is in "just behind Altuve immunity" status, All Springer does in the World Series is hit home runs!
It's been nice to see "Uncle Mike" come through with some consistent, keep-the-rally-going base hits, and the occasional flash of the leather in left field. His sliding catch and double play throw in Game 6 of the ALCS will be a legendary play, replayed for decades to come, if the Astros close out this World Series.
"Handsome" Jake Marisnick
Again, this is one selection that gets in people's feelings a bit. Am I saying Marisnick is a better player than Verlander or Correa? Of course not. But my expectation of Marisnick is to flash some leather in the late innings, and make an occasional start in which he goes 1 for 4. I fully trust him to successfully achieve those initiatives. Also, the ladies love him! That counts for a little something in the CoT selection meetings.
Knocking on the Circle Door: NONE. Some will ask about Josh Reddick, but this Circle feels like it was created specifically for the Josh Reddicks on this team. We love Josh, he is a super guy, with all the WOOOO's and the occasional flash of leather in right field. However, he is a fountain of infield popups at the plate, and thus cannot be trusted. Plain and simple.
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Chirinos was on the outside looking in after an abysmal ALCS, and then he started making solid contact in the World Series, and that contact turned into two crucial home runs, one in Game 3 and one in Game 4. Just like that, Chirinos is back in the CoT.
THE YORDAN CATEGORY
No everyday player's CoT journey has been more volatile than that of young Alvarez. The 22 year old rookie finished the regular season with a pinball machine-like OPS of 1.067 in 313 at bats. Then came the postseason, and an ALCS in which he was 1 for 22 with 12 strikeouts. Yuck. However, the World Series began, and Alvarez clearly was able to turn the page, making good contact in Games 1 and 2, and then with a start in left field in Game 5, he went 3 for 3 with his first postseason home run. He is 6 for 11 in the World Series heading into tonight's game, where he will presumably be back in the lineup at DH.