The Astros are Red-Hot: Are They Ready to Repeat?
After completing a sweep of the lowly Royals yesterday, the Astros have now won 11 straight games. With the Rays, Royals, Blue Jays, and Rays again being their next four series, this team shows no signs up slowing down and will look to pull away from the Mariners. But with a playoff spot (at minimum wild card spot) imminent, does this team have what it takes to repeat? Before we answer that question, let’s look at what it takes to repeat in baseball
Repeating in the MLB
We haven’t had a repeat champion in baseball since 2000. Can you guess who (HINT: They actually three-peated)? If you guessed the Yankees, then you’re right! In fact, there’s only been 13 repeat champions all-time and 6 of them were Yankees’ teams. So why don’t we see repeat champions as often as a sport like basketball, where there’s been 4 repeat champions since 2000? Well one factor is the size of a baseball roster. With 25 guys on a roster, everyone has a role, especially in today’s baseball. There are guys who’re defensive specialists and pinch runners. There are guys who come in from the bullpen just to face that one lefty coming up in the 8th inning. With so many pieces contributing, it’s hard to keep an entire roster together. Now that your 8th inning specialist has his ring, he wants to sign somewhere else to compete to be the closer. Your utility player that hit 20 home runs is a free agent and wants to sign his first big deal. One of your starters disagrees with how the manager runs the team and wants to move on. There’s a myriad of factors that contribute to pieces leaving a championship team. Roster size is why football has only seen one repeat champion since 2000 (The ’03-’04 Patriots) and why basketball has four. Bigger rosters are just harder to keep together. But sometimes just keeping the gang together isn’t enough.
With a season that stretches 162 games (Over 10 times as long as the NFL and almost nearly double the NBA), anything can happen. Players constantly get nagging injuries. Pitchers are always taking trips to the DL for arm trouble. Minor league players have months to hit their stride and become an impact at the major league level. And of course, possibly the biggest factor, teams can get hot at the right (Or wrong) time. With 162 games to play over 6 months, teams are bound to get hot and teams are bound to slump. It’s nearly impossible for a team to totally dominate an entire season. And sometimes, being hot at the right time is better than being the best team. A perfect example is the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. They certainly weren’t the best team that year (sporting a 90-72 record). But they got hot in September, overcoming the 10.5 game lead the Braves held in the Wild Card before riding that hot streak to their 11th World Series win. However, getting hot or getting cold usually relies on one big factor…
Baseball is unique compared to other sports. In football, basketball, and hockey, you are basically always putting the same team out there every game. The important positions or important players rarely change. Baseball is different. In baseball, teams have to change their pitching not only every game but multiple times within a game. Your offense can go out and score 5 runs in 5 consecutive games and go 1-4 because your ace pitched a gem in one of those games and the other four pitchers all got shelled. Or, your starting pitching can be phenomenal but you still lose because the back end of your bullpen isn’t strong. Compare this to football, where if you have a defense that gives up 20 points per game, your offense scoring 25+ points in 5 games will probably net you a 4-1 or 5-0 record. Consistency among a team is tough when arguably the most important position on the field is a different person so often.
So can the Astros Repeat?
With all this in mind, let’s look at this Astros team. Most people would agree that the core of this team is Correa, Springer, and Altuve. Fortunately for the Astros, they have all three of them back, healthy, and playing well. But not only did they keep the core, they were actually able to keep their entire lineup from last year’s World Series. And with such a young starting lineup, most of these players are only going to get better. But what about their pitching? The Astros pitching staff has actually been better than last year, and not from the people you’d expect. Statistically, Keuchel has been the Astros worst pitcher this year. Instead, the contributions have been coming from basically everyone else. Verlander is 9-2 with a 1.61 ERA. Morton has been having a career year as well. Although he’s starting to deviate back towards the mean, he’s still pitching well and sporting a sub 3.00 ERA. McCullers has improved as well from last year, with his ERA at 3.77 (Compared to 4.25 the previous year). And of course there’s Gerrit Cole, the ex-Pirate who was supposed to be the next great thing. Although he was never terrible in Pittsburgh, he’s seemed to finally hit his stride here in Houston. And of course, these starters can exit games knowing that their hard work won’t be spoiled. Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Collin McHugh, and Hector Rendon have all been great out of the bullpen, with the latter three having a sub 2.00 ERA. So with the entire offense back from last year, an improved pitching staff, and a solid bullpen, the Astros are ready to repeat. However, with the Yankees and Red Sox beefing up their rosters and the Mariners and Angels playing better than years past, the road to another championship will be long and arduous.
-Stephen Brown III (@sbtrey23)