Sustained success by the Astros has put Houston fans in an unfamiliar position

Dear Astro Fan: Quit whining and embrace your inner villain

"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." – A quote by Harvey Dent in The DarkKnight.

Since the playoffs began there has been a constant rumble among Astros fans about the perceived bias by the national media against the team. This includes more than one "accusation" that pitch tipping by opposing pitchers has artificially augmented the Astros' success. I duck as I say this, but Houston fans have a proclivity to whine - often - about the coverage their teams receive by national outlets; and when it comes to criticisms by those outsiders, well, Houston fans aren't necessarily the toughest bunch. Whether the "hate" in these playoffs is real or just simply perceived it is something Houston fan needs to come to grips with. So with a best in the majors 107 win team still alive and kicking in the playoffs I ask of Houston fans: Why So Serious?

The time has come for Houston fan to embrace the role of the villain

Having a team occupy the villain role in the national discourse is uncharted territory for Houston sports fans, because honestly none of the Houston teams have had serious shots at a championship for multiple years in a row before. Sure you can argue the Rockets have had good stretches but they have never been the odds on favorite to win the title for 3, 4, 5, or more years in a row. Even in the years they did win back-to-back championships they are more or less remembered nationally as the placeholder champions for the years Michael Jordan decided to be a baseball player.

Now with a World Series title, multiple consecutive 100 win seasons, three consecutive ALCS appearances, and a championship potential window that looks to be open for at least a few more years the Astros aren't so beloved outside of Houston anymore. Sure in 2017 they were national darlings as they were a young likable team who were the end result of a long painful losing process. But now people outside of Houston are tiring of their domination. If the Astros are able to move on to the World Series this year I can promise you very few people outside of Houston will want to see them win. The Nationals will be the scrappy team of Avengers and the Astros will be Thanos. But hey, don't worry – Thanos wouldn't be Thanos if he didn't do a whole lot of winning.

The great thing about having your team be the villain though (not including vilification for off the field issues) is that unlike movie villains, sports villains win, and win a bunch. A team only comes to occupy that "bad guy" role among those outside of its fan base by consistent winning. Think of how hated the Yankees, Patriots, Warriors, and Crimson Tide are. Well guess what, their fans are slurping it up and it's time for Astro fan to do the same.

Going back to the Harvey Dent quote at the beginning of this article - the Astros didn't die as heroes in 2017, they have lived long enough with sustained success to become the villain. So next time the Astros get disrespected, whether its from A-Rod, Joe Buck, or an anonymous twitter egg, relish in it, channel your inner villain and think of this:



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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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