The Houston Astros are the second best team in the American League behind only the Yankees. But since June 12—nearly two months—the Astros have been the best team in the league. Earlier this week, the Astros made three trades by acquiring 1B/DH. Trey Mancinicatcher Christian Vasquez and a lefty pitcher Will Smith.
It looks like the Astros are on track to play in the American League Championship Series for the sixth year in a row. They won in 2017, 2019 and 2021 but lost in even-numbered years in 2018 and 2020. What an achievement it is to reach the Final Four year after year.
Sunday at 12:00 pm ET in a game streamed on Peacock, the Astros will fight the Guardians. Cleveland won the ALCS in 2016 and hasn’t returned since.
Most of the Astros since 2017 are no longer on the team. But the second baseman Jose Altuve — and starting pitcher — Justin Verlander – still around. And that’s why no one should assume that the Yankees will take part in the Fall Classic in October.
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Jose Altuve and Houston Hall of Famer second baseman
The Houston Astros have been around since 1962, or 61 seasons. They have had Joe Morgan over 10 seasons (120 OPS+ with Houston). They have had Craig Bigio for 20 seasons (112 OPS+). And they had Jose Altuve over the past 12 years (126 OPS+).
That’s almost as impressive a line as left fielders for the Boston Red Sox (Ted Williams, Karl Yastrzemsky, Jim Rice).
Altuve was named to his 8th career All-Star Game this year, a franchise record, passing Bigio, who was selected 7 times in his career by the Hall of Fame. Morgan – the best player out of three – has only made two of his 10 All-Star appearances with the Astros.
Altuve was signed by Houston as a 16-year-old undrafted free agent from Maracay, Venezuela. He was there with Houston before they were good. In his first couple of seasons, the Astros were terrible. In Altuva’s rookie season, the Astros lost 106 games. They lost 107 games in their second season. They lost 111 games in their third season.
Would anyone believed that a 5-foot-6 second baseman on baseball’s worst team would go on and hit more home runs in the postseason than anyone in history other than Manny Ramirez?
Altuve has 23 homers in the postseason, trailing Manny’s 29.
But he was far from a World Series hero. In 20 World Series games, Altuve has an OPS of just .695. His OBP in the World Series is a pathetic .255. He scored 19 times and only got through twice in 20 World Series games.
In 2019, when the Astros won 3-2 against Washington, Altuve was quietly leading 1-8 AB in Games 6 and 7.
Altuve’s OPS in his Division Series game is 1.077. His OPS in ALCS is 0.971. And then it drops to .695 in the World Series.
cWPA (Championship Winning Probability Added for Offensive Player) shows Altuve’s cWPA was 33.9% across the five ALCS series. In the cWPA World Series Altuve is -8.4%. In the 2019 World Series, Altuva was -24%. In the 2021 World Series, it was -4.6%.
In this regard, Altuve is once again copying Biggio, who had an OPS of just .618 in 40 postseason games and a cWPA of -16.6%.
And while I’m picking on Altuve’s performance in the World Series, it should be noted how he performed in the earlier rounds of the playoffs.
For example, in 2017 the ALCS against the Yankees when he went 8-15 AB, with 2 HR in four games in Houston (all wins) and 0-10 AB in three games in New York (all losses).
Or the 2019 ALCS against the Yankees, when he was the MVP of the series, hitting a dramatic home run in Game 6 to win the series. You remember when he was embarrassed to take off his shirt on the way home.
And if you think the Altuve’s post-season history is patchy, just take a look at the Verlander.
The amazing career of Justin Verlander.
Verlander was the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year. 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, Hanley Ramirez, was a good player. But Hanley last played in early 2019, and his last good year was 2017.
Verlander was the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player. All three players finishing behind Justin were good players. Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Batistaas well as Curtis Granderson — and all of them haven’t played baseball in years. NL MVP in 2011 was Ryan Brownwho knocked out Matt Kempas well as Prince Fielder.
Verlander has an excellent career record despite only making one start in the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined (opening day 2020). He leads all active pitchers with 240 wins. Besides a former teammate Zach Greinke (222 wins), no other active pitcher has even 200 wins.
Here are my favorite Verlander numbers. During his regular season career, he hit 50,635 regular season pitches. Add 3109 more fields after the end of the season. That’s 53,744 fields, many of which are hard fields with seasons at stake.
The only thing I can compare it to Tom Bradythe NFL’s all-time leader in pass attempts in the regular season (11,317) and in the postseason (1,855).
The other statistic I’d like to point out about Verlander is that he has completely deviated from any Brady comparison.
Justin Verlander started seven games of the World Series. He is 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA in the Fall Classic.
He often pitched in his native park. He usually played for the best team. He led in five World Series games and failed to hold on to any.
In 2006, the Verlander Tigers were 95–67 and played the St. Louis Cardinals, who finished the regular season 83–78. Verlander lost the first game 7-2, losing to Anthony Reyeswho was 13-26 with a 5.12 ERA in his entire Major League career. Verlander lost the fifth game of this series Jeff Weaver (8-14, 5.76 ERA in 2006 season; 104-119, 4.71 ERA for career).
He got another opportunity to start World Series games in 2012. In game 1 he was passed Barry Zito. Verlander turned down a home run Paul Sandoval in the first inning and another home run to Sandoval in the third inning. After 4 innings, Verlander’s night ended, he gave up six hits and five runs. The Tigers lost the game 8-3 and lost in the series.
This brings us to a couple of Verlander starts in the 2017 World Series. After Clayton Kershaw After winning Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, Justin Verlander attempted to tie the score before sending the series back to Houston. Verlander hit a couple of home runs again (Jock Pedersen as well as Corey Seeger) and lost 3-1 after the sixth inning. It was the only World Series game that Verlander’s team won, coming back against Kenley Jansen in the ninth and defeating the Dodgers 7-6 in 11 innings.
In Game 6, with a chance to end the series, Verlander received the ball at Dodger Stadium and lost 3-1. Justin pitched well until the sixth inning when he gave up a good run.
In 2019, Verlander lost their second game 12–3. Kurt Suzuki hit a home run in Justin’s seventh inning as the Nationals opened the game. Justin gave up four more runs out of six-plus innings.
And then, in Game 6 of the 2019 series, when Verlander tried to give his team the World Series title, he lost again. He gave up two more home runs (Adam Eaton, Juan Soto).
It seems incredible that Verlander did so poorly in the World Series. If I were an apologist, I could point out that the Verlander didn’t have good running support.
Supporting Verlander in the World Series (when he was in the game)
2006 Game 1 1 run
2006 Game 5 2 runs
2012 Game 1 0 runs
2017 Game 2 1 race
2017 Game 6 1 race
2019 Game 2 2 races
2019 Game 6 2 races
Verlander has led in five of the seven World Series starts:
2006 Game 1: Tigers lead 1-0 first. Verlander lost his lead in the Top Two.
2006 Game 5: The Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the fourth. Verlander gave up the lead at the bottom of 4th place.
2017 Game 2: The Astros took a 1-0 lead in Game 3. Verlander lost the lead in the bottom of 5th place.
2017 Game 6: The Astros took a 1-0 lead in Game 3. Verlander lost the lead in the bottom of 6th place.
Game 6 of 2019: The Astros took a 2-1 lead in Game 1. Verlander lost his top 5 lead.
Will Justin get another chance to win a World Series match? Will Altuv get enough postseason games to challenge Manny Ramirez for an all-time record? Are we headed for another Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series?
While this column was being written, the Dodgers announced their deaths. Vin Scully. This announcement hit me hard.
Surprisingly Strong Vin Scully
I worked with Vin Scully in the 1980s, when he worked as NBC’s Game of the Week Announcer. He was a wonderful man, the kindest man you could ever hope to meet. And so much has been written about him being a wonderful wordsmith.
But what is not remembered is his strength. “It takes strength to do what we do,” he told me. And now that I’ve reached Scully’s age when I worked with him, I understand what he meant.
Scully called Dodgers baseball games for 67 years. For many of those years, he also hosted network broadcasts of golf and NFL football games. When I worked with him, he would leave the Dodgers after Thursday’s game and go to NBC’s Game of the Week venue. After the Saturday afternoon game, he was going to go to where the Dodgers played for Sunday’s game.
Trust me, a strong man or woman must do this week after week, year after year.
At the end of September 1989, the Chicago Pirates/Cubs game was the game of the week. It started at 14:25 local time and lasted over 3 hours. I had the good fortune to jump into the limousine taking Scully to O’Hare Airport. Getting into the car closer to 18:00, none of us had much free time for our…