Astros need to finish what they started

photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros have had one of the greatest regular seasons in baseball history. They set the franchise record for most wins with 107, as well as leading the league in several offensive marks including batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage while striking out less than every other team. They also led all of baseball in fielding percentage while putting together one of the most dominant pitching staffs the game has seen in quite some time.

Led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros struck out more hitters than any other team in the game, issued the fewest walks, had the best WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings and second-best ERA. Both power pitchers eclipsed the 300 strikeout mark for the season as they finished the campaign in a dead heat for the Cy Young Award. It was a regular season for the ages and one that Houstonians won't soon forget, but in order for this year's team to be immortalized in baseball history, there is still work to be done. You see, when it comes to sports history and team sports, in particular, it doesn't mean a thing if you don't win that ring.

Steph Curry vs. James Harden. Getty Images.

The Astros need not look any farther than the Rockets most recent rival, the Golden State Warriors to find the perfect example of a historically great regular season team that lost luster and shine by not winning the championship at the end of the year. The 2016 Warriors set the all-time NBA record for regular-season wins with a 73-9 record. They steamrolled the rest of basketball and had everyone talking about the greatest team ever assembled. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to etching their name in stone as the greatest team ever, they lost in the NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and while the "king" took their crown, the Cavs tarnished their place in history.

Now, instead of praising their incredible season and talking about being one of the greatest teams ever, they talk about the asterisk next to their record that symbolizes their inability to validate that accomplishment with a title. For that reason alone, there are many that think the 1996 Chicago Bulls team that went 72-10 is the greatest team ever. Led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, that team did what the Warriors couldn't do and won it all to seal the deal and forever memorialize how great that team was.

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I think you get my point and see where I am going here. I want this Astros team to win their second championship in the last three years and I want them to bring another title to H-town. I want them to be the first team in MLB history to have the Cy Young award winner, the MVP and the A.L. Rookie of the year all come from the same squad and to have that team win the World Series as well, that would be the icing on the cake.

I want all of those things because I want this team to be remembered, not just by Astros fans, but by baseball fans for years to come. This has been a storybook season for the Astros and their fans, all we need now is the perfect ending to solidify their place in history.

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You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln.

But in the case of Dusty Baker, at least on Twitter and talk radio, he can’t seem to please anybody any of the time.

Mind you, that’s Dusty Baker Jr., a lock Hall of Famer and current manager of the first-place Houston Astros who have the best record in the American League and pretty much have wrapped up a bye in the first-round of the playoffs.

It wouldn’t be surprising if MLB gave the Astros permission to start printing World Series tickets in the middle of August.

So why all the griping and head shaking about Baker from Astros fans? Let’s take a look at Twitter to perhaps find the reason for the fans’ summer of discontent … despite the team’s dominance, out-of-reach spot atop the American League standings and cheering crowds filling Minute Maid Park. Remember, Twitter can be a bloodbath of whining. If you don't have anything nice to say, say it on Twitter.

Maybe it’s because Baker can’t seem to make up his mind about a batting order. And sometimes the batting order makes no sense. For instance, last night Baker had Mauricio Dubon filling in for the injured Jeremy Pena and batting leadoff. Dubon is batting .195. That’s not good. Statistically, the leadoff hitter gets to the plate more often than the No. 2 batter, who gets to the plate more often than the No. 3 batter, etc. and so on.

There is a chance that the leadoff batter will be a team’s last hope to tie or win a game with two outs in the ninth inning. Last night, the Astros had a .195 hitter with a .257 on base percentage batting leadoff.

(Twitter: “We get our 94th – yes, that’s accurate – different batting order of the season for game 117.”)

But somehow the Astros are in first place and the odds-on pick to win the American League pennant and play in the World Series for the fourth time in six years.

Maybe it’s because Astros management went out and traded for Christian Vazquez (.286) to bolster the team offense, and Dusty is using him as a backup for Martin Maldonado (.186). Yes, Maldonado is popular with his teammates, but Vasquez is hitting 100 points higher than Maldy. A hundred points trumps popularity. Sure Maldonado is gunning down potential base stealers, but algorithms don’t lie – offense scores more runs than defense saves. And Vasquez’s pop time, the time it takes from the moment a pitch hits the catcher’s glove to the moment his throw reaches the fielder on an attempted steal, is about the same as Maldonado’s. Neither Maldonado nor Vasquez’s pop time is considered elite, by the way. And here’s one that might surprise you: Maldonado currently leads all American League catchers in passed balls.

(Twitter: “I’m still annoyed a game was lost because of a bad managerial call. Should have kept Urquidy in or brought in Stanek.”)

Maybe it’s because Baker seems insistent on sticking with the players who brung him. Monday night, Baker’s lineup included Dubon (.195), Yuli Gurriel (.243 in decline), Jake Meyers (.216 in steep decline) and Maldonado (.186). The Astros scored two runs, none after the first inning.

Yes, the Astros have the best record and are leading their division by 12 games. But maybe if the Astros had a set lineup and played Mancini and Vasquez more, the lead would be more, Twitter argues.

(Twitter: “This L goes on Baker. He is going to cost us playoff wins. Pulling Urquidy was stupid. He shouldn’t be our manager next year, there are better options available.”)

After last night’s loss, Baker told reporters, “That was tough to take. You can put it on me.”

Astros fans, at least those on Twitter, are saying “Ya think?”

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