Nats Win First Title as Astros Fold

Following a disheartening 2018 ALCS exit at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, the Houston Astros entered spring training in 2019 with one purpose in mind: “Take It Back.” They achieved a league-best regular season with a record 107 wins, and aimed for their second World Series title in three years. This would have moved them towards a dynasty we have not seen since the Giants won it all in 2010, ‘12, and ‘14. The Washington Nationals, however, had other plans. After ruining the Dodgers’ season, Washington fought their way to their first ever world title, and they were also the first wild card team since those Giants in 2014 to win the World Series.

How we got here

The Houston Astros, who were so good during the regular season, immediately had a postseason battle on their hands, as the Tampa Bay Rays pushed Houston to a decisive Game Five. People will say home field advantage doesn’t matter, but Houston was glad they had it. The reason is that after going up 2–0 and looking good, Houston was awful at Tropicana Field. There’s no surprise there, because as I mentioned before the playoffs started, the Astros had been 4–7 at Tampa Bay since 2017. Imagine if the roles were reversed and Houston did not have the home field advantage: the Astros could very well have been one-and-done. But they returned home, got their mojo back, and advanced to the ALCS.

Then came the ALCS matchup we all knew would happen, or at least believed would happen since June, as Houston squared off against the Yankees. Unlike 2017’s ALCS in which the home team won every game, this time around it was a heavyweight battle as Houston stumbled in Game One. The Astros were close to being in an 0–2 hole, but after late-inning magic, Houston fought back, tied the series, and returned home to take the Yankees out in 6.

The troubling thing for me in the Astros’ postseason run was that in the regular season, they were a difficult team to strike out, seeming always able to put the ball in play. That is a big reason they led baseball in every statistical category this season.

In the playoffs, on the other hand, it was like the Astros forgot who they were. Part of it was the great pitching they faced along the way, but there were also a lot of bad at-bats.

Case in point: In the World Series, Houston had innings in which had potential to blow the game open, only to strand base runners, especially in their four home games. The Astros then hit the road for three straight in Washington, where they looked like the 2019 Houston Astros; they could do no wrong on the road. But when they came home, again it was like the Astros simply forgot who they were and what made them baseball’s best team.

My respect goes out to the Nationals, as they had a hell of a run. They found late-inning magic against the Brewers, went on the road and pulled off an incredible upset over the Dodgers, then sealed the NLCS by thoroughly dominating the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game sweep. They did it with great pitching, but ironically enough, the Nationals won pretty much the exact way the Astros won it all in 2017.

Washington played freely, like a team with nothing to lose. Going against the Dodgers and the Astros, nobody expected Washington to win. Yet here they are now, world champions; they used Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez to get to the back end of their bullpen. The Nationals were the loosest team in these playoffs, and because they weren’t intimidated by the stage they were on, they leave 2019 with a trophy. Houston, despite their great season, comes away empty handed.

Legacy-defining series

Sometimes when I watch the Astros’ core four of Springer, Altuve, Bregman, and Correa, I compare them to the Yankees’ core four of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera in terms of their generational talent, as well as how they impacted a franchise. The thing is, New York won four World Series titles; in fact, the Yankees lived in the World Series from 1998–2001.

As talented as the Astros’ core is, they have not achieved that legendary status; at least not yet. Houston has enjoyed three straight 100-win seasons, which was a first-time accomplishment in Astros history. They were also just sixth team in baseball history to record three straight 100-win seasons. Despite the regular season success, the Astros only have one championship to show for it.

The Astros’ core are a very talented group, but if they are going to be as legendary as New York’s core four, sorry, but they need to deliver more than one ring.

This series could have given Houston national recognition as one of the best teams ever. Instead, at home, they found a way to come up empty-handed.

Final word

As great as this season was for the Astros, coming up empty-handed just feels awful. Instead of watching their team cap an incredible season with a title, Houston fans are left stunned and wondering what’s next. The Astros have some big decisions ahead, and have the front office to help put them in position to contend once again in 2020. After not taking it back this year, I sit here and ask myself, if this team could not win it all with everything they had, what will it take for Houston to win another World Series?

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