Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
As the Astros watched the Nationals win the World Series Wednesday night in Game 7 by a 6-2 score, it was hard for Houston fans not to be disappointed, especially how the Astros choked it away. Seeing Washington celebrate its first title on the Astros home field was a tough pill to swallow. It was an exciting time for the Nationals and their fans, however. And it should be a reminder of just how special 2017 was for the city of Houston.
Hard to come by
Unless you are Boston, championships don't come often. In 1995, the Rockets won their second title when Clyde Drexler came home and Rudy T reminded us to never underestimate the heart of a champion. It seemed like it would go on forever.
It didn't. Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen came and went, and the Rockets have been chasing a title ever since. Many of you reading this might not have even been born when it happened.
That's why 2017 was so special. It was a rare moment, where a team took a city that was still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and brought it one magic memory after another. They went through three of the legendary franchises - the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers. It was something that could never be repeated.
Those Astros were charming. They were MVP Jose Altuve. World Series MVP George Springer. They were the magical trade for Justin Verlander, who brought Hollywood flash with his wife, Kate Upton. It was pure magic. It brought all of the city together. That is something rare indeed in our society these days.
This is what it meant to me at the time. I am certain many of you felt the same way.
Something to enjoy
It was what makes sports great. The pain of all those years of losing just reminds us how incredible it is when you finally see it happen. That's why this disappointment should remind us of just how excited we were in 2017. Those moments are made even more special when you come up well short, as the Astros did Wednesday night.
Not so lovable
Unlike 2017, outside of Houston, no one liked the 2019 Astros team. Everyone was rooting for the Nationals. They became the lovable first-timers. The thought of Max Scherzer finally getting to hoist a trophy. The annoying Baby Shark. A pesky, gritty lineup. When the capital of political corruption becomes more popular than you, it's time to embrace your inner villain.
The Astros became the bad guys. They added Roberto Osuna, whose domestic violence case brought a stain to the organization, no matter how it played out. Justin Verlander caused a scene with a reporter. Yuli Gurriel was suspended for a racist gesture in the 2017 Series. The antics of Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick might be loved by Houston fans, but they are both players that you hate if they aren't on your team. Then, of course, there was the infamous incident with their former assistant general manager. It was overblown and mishandled on both sides, but it also created a false narrative about "culture" in the national media, who continued to pound the Astros no matter what they did to try to make it right.
Fair or not, this was the national image of the Astros. And with a World Series on the line, they folded, and the rest of America celebrated.
The Astros will be good for a few more years, and might even win another title, although it is unlikely. Gerrit Cole is certainly gone, but Lance McCullers should be back, Jose Uquidy looks promising, and someday even Forrest Whitley might show up. Or the Astros will make some off-season moves to boost the rotation. George Springer, Carlos Correa and Michael Brantley are under contract for another year. But there is nothing guaranteed; this year's team should prove that. Getting past Tampa, the Yankees, and even coming back from down 2-0 to take a 3-2 lead was damned near impossible. The Yankees will be better next year, so too will the Red Sox. Not to mention the Dodgers should the Astros get that far.
The bottom line
So 2019 is in the books. A.J. Hinch, who made all the right moves in 2017, mismanaged the pitching staff in Game 7 in an ugly way, and the Astros came up short. He brought in Will Harris, who was overworked, when Cole was there to do the job. It cost them a title.
Still, it was a great ride that ended with them coming up short of the ultimate prize, but it was still fun to get there. An American League championship is nothing to sneeze at. But that's also why the memories created in 2017 were ones that will last a lifetime. As great as Hinch and the Astros were in 2017, they were failures in 2019.
Feel bad for this loss, but enjoy 2017 again, because it is not something to be taken for granted. It is more likely than not it will never happen again.
It's a new year for the Houston Astros as they return to action for their first game of the spring against the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Every season we see some adjustments to the roster which means we also see some changes in leadership. As Astros fans, we're all aware of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker's contract situations. Breggy could be gone after the season, and Tucker could follow one year later.
Which means it's pretty clear who the leaders of the team will be for the foreseeable future. Not only are these guys two of the best players on the club, but they're also under contract for several more years. In Altuve's case, through the 2029 season. For Yordan, he won't sniff free agency until 2029.
While these guys aren't your typical vocal leaders, they are both highly respected and lead by example. Leadership is something that's front of mind for Yordan this season, according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome.
On Yordan Alvarez the leader, one of two constants in a clubhouse bracing for change and the responsibility he wants to shoulder as a result - https://t.co/sZGlI5taBQ
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 21, 2024
Another way to be a leader is to do everything you can to be available for your team. Alvarez changed his diet in the offseason hoping it will help him stay healthy this year.
Manager Joe Espada said Alvarez is fully healthy and he plans on playing him earlier than normal this spring.
Currently, Yordan is trending down in games played for three straight seasons. But he's such a great player that he needs fewer games to put up massive numbers.
He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2022, and he only played in 135 games out of a possible 162.
So with that in mind, how many games does Yordan need to play this year to win an MVP?
Plus, who's going to protect him in the lineup? With new manager Joe Espada in place, it's hard to know what the lineup will look like.
One thing we do know, Espada immediately named Josh Hader his closer when spring training began. He also told the media that he wants Jeremy Pena to know where he's going to hit every day when he comes to the ballpark.
Espada values players knowing their roles, and getting comfortable in their routines. Something very different from last season when manager Dusty Baker moved Pena all over the lineup throughout the season.
So what does all this mean for Yordan?
Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!
Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.