REVENGE MISSION

How giant piles of money, fearless predictions & reputations hinge on Astros World Series

The Astros are a better story than the Braves. Period. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

For the past few days, we've heard and read baseball analysts predicting who'll win the World Series, our Houston Astros or the Atlanta Braves. It's usually the same tired cliche ... the Astros (or Braves) … "in six."

For the record, the World Series has been decided "in six" only four times in the past quarter-century.

First, these experts are no better than you, me or a chimp hurling feces at photos of Orbit or Chief Noc-A-Homa. Predictions on sports shows are just a time-killer before the hosts turn it over to the midday guy.

Those pre-game, former-player hosts on Fox, TBS and MLB Network couldn't be more boring and just plain silly. They're trying too hard. A-Rod is creepy, Big Papi isn't funny and Frank Thomas just sits there worrying about his hormone levels. I can't even name the host on Fox. On top of that, they were wrong on the Red Sox beating the Astros.

I remember walking into the living room where my father was watching a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Browns scored and my father pumped his fist, "All right!" I asked him, "Why are you rooting for the Browns? We live in New Jersey."

He said, "I always root for the team farther east." It made as much sense as anything else he ever said. Another time he was watching a political debate between candidates for mayor of New York City. One of the candidates said the word "either" and pronounced it "eye-ther." My father was put off by his uppity pronunciation and said, "That's it, I can't vote for that guy now."

I thought, how about the fact we don't live in New York City and there's zero chance you're registered to vote anywhere, anyhow?

For the record, Pittsburgh is farther east than Cleveland. My father was never a "I'll take geography for $600" guy.

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale reportedly has bet $3.35 million on the Astros to win the World Series and stands to win $35.6 million if they do. It would be the biggest haul in the history of legal sports gambling in America.

Mattress Mack told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "I will never in my life bet against the Houston Astros. It's loyalty. And I'm loyal to the Houston Astros."

It's as good a reason as any. I will bet you $3.25 dollars that Mattress Mack can't name the Astros centerfielder.

Here's my World Series prediction, and if you've been following SportsMap you know I've been riding the Astros since spring training.

The Astros in 4. You know why the Astros will sweep? It's because they're just gonna. No analytical rhyme or reason. They're just gonna.

The Astros are a better story than the Braves. Just like it took a whole year before the Chicago Black Sox were found guilty and punished for throwing the 1919 World Series, it took years for the Astros' cheating ways of 2017 to be prosecuted. This is the Astros first venture onto baseball's grandest stage since the sign-stealing scandal went public.

The Astros are on a revenge mission to prove they can win fair and square. The team, especially the five holdovers from 2017, are seeking, not forgiveness, but vindication and respect. And they're reveling in wearing black hats.

The Astros are a curious lot. Will Dusty Baker, a toothpick-chewing, surgical glove-wearing "cool 72-year-old" be back next year? Does owner Jim Crane have the business testicles to let clutch-hitting team leader Carlos Correa sign with another team? What to do with high-priced veterans who haven't helped a lick this season?

In their own villainous way, the Astros are the glamour team in the 2021 World Series. Baseball needs a headline-grabbing Series to get back on track as the national pastime (although that door probably closed decades ago). A dismal, dull affair (credit: Jagger-Richards) with the Braves winning is the last thing baseball needs.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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