Through 11 games in the 2017 season, the Astros were 7-4. The team that had garnered the cover of Sports Illustrated a few years prior with the bold prediction they would be World Series champs in 2017 was...underwhelming. There was talent, to be sure, but there was something missing. The offense had sputtered early, despite some wins and they flirted with .500 for the first eight games. Then, something clicked after the 0-6 loss in Seattle. They went 10-2 in their next 12. They went from averaging 2.5 runs per game in their first eight to more than 5. They were suddenly a different team.
It's one of the reasons it was so surprising to see the 2018 Astros struggle to score runs all season long with essentially the same roster. But, injuries have a way of diluting successful intentions.
This year began much the way 2017 did, but even worse. Eight games into the season, the Astros were 3-5, averaging just 2.25 runs scored per game. While their pitching had been better than 2017 — their only real achilles heel that season — with a bullpen as good as any in baseball, their hitting faltered. In the last four games, however, they have scored 6, 9 and 4 runs, while their pitching remains (save Sunday's 9-8 win over Oakland) well above average.
But there is something else. In both of the last two games, that aforementioned sweep the A's and Monday night's 4-3 win over the Yankees, there have been the kind of comebacks reminiscent of 2017, the sort of relentless pressure that made that World Series winning team so frustrating for opponents and, in the end, impossible to beat.
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And it's not just that they are doing it, it's how. On Sunday, it was an unlikely home run from Tony Kemp and a three-run shot from Aledmys Diaz, whose start with the team was brutal to put it mildly. Sure, Jose Altuve had the walk off walk, but it was timely hitting against two of the best close-out relievers in the AL that ultimately sealed it.
Then, the Yankees came to town. The Bronx Bombers have been beset by injury, but you play the games on the schedule and New York is always a difficult out. This time, it was new catcher Robinson Chirinos and a seventh inning two-run double that tied up a game in which the Astros had only managed four hits thus far. Carlos Correa, who is looking like the guy we hoped he would be, brought home the go-ahead run in the eighth, but it was Chirinos that got it started.
Obviously, we are only 11 games into a very long season, but the 2019 Astros are 6-5 while the 2017 squad was 7-4. Both seem to have that magic and an offense that could come at opponents in waves. And this team has pitching 2017's team didn't — at least until they traded for Justin Verlander at the end of August.
Yes, it's early, but the feeling is there. The Astros slogan this year is take it back. For the first time this year, it actually feels like they could.