After Houston fell to the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the ALCS, the national media couldn't wait to pile on the Astros, their dynasty, and fanbase. A perfect example of this came from Dan Clark, who said the Astros choked or cheated in every season outside of 2022.
The Houston Astros have been great for nine years, but how will history look back at them, winning it all just once?
'15 - ALDS choke
'16 - Missed playoffs
'17 - Cheated
'18 - ALCS choke
'19 - World Series choke
'20 - ALCS choke
'21 - World Series choke
'22 - 💍
'23 - ALCS choke
— Dan Clark (@DanClarkSports) October 24, 2023
Clearly, this take is totally ridiculous. Every time a team loses, it doesn't mean they choked. Sometimes the other team is better, and you just got beat. However, if you asked most fans, they would probably tell you the Astros had some great opportunities and weren't able to cash in.
So, just for fun, let's go through Dan's list and discuss if he has a point. And these are just my opinions below. I'm sure plenty of Astros fans will feel differently, and that's fine. John and I don't agree on all of these in the video above, so be sure to watch for the full discussion.
With that disclaimer out of the way, off we go.
2015: These were the baby Astros. Nobody expected them to get to the division series against the Royals. Houston went 70-92 the previous season, so this was a big jump in 2015. They lost to the Royals in 5 games in the ALDS and Kansas City went on to win the World Series over the Mets, taking the series 4 games to 1. The Astros did lead this series 2-1, but lost Games 4 and 5 pretty convincingly. Not a choke.
2016: Didn't even make the playoffs, further proving 2015 wasn't a choke. This team wasn't ready yet. They exceeded expectations in 2015 and took a step back in 2016. Not a choke.
2017: Won the World Series. While Dan will say it doesn't count because they cheated, I say, at least they won. Houston fans are well aware the Dodgers and Yankees had their own style of funny business going on in the video rooms, too. At least the Astros didn't cheat AND lose that year. They won the title so clearly, not a choke.
2018: Boston won the most games in baseball during the regular season (108). They won the ALCS 4 games to 1 over Houston and went on to win the World Series. The ALCS series wasn't close, and Jose Altuve had knee surgery immediately following the season. Boston was later punished by MLB for cheating in 2018. Not a choke.
2019: He might have a point here. This was the best roster the Astros ever had in my opinion. Houston never won a home game in this World Series. Heading home with a 3-2 lead in the series, the Astros were unable to close the deal against the Nationals (sounds familiar). The Astros won 107 games in the regular season, more than any other team. The top of their rotation was Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke. They choked.
2020: This was the weird covid season. The Astros didn't have a winning record in the regular season and got down 3-0 to the Rays in the ALCS. Houston won three straight and lost in Game 7. Both Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez were injured and unavailable that year. Not a choke.
2021: The Braves were just better and won the World Series in 6 games. Atlanta hammered Houston 7-0 in Game 6, securing the series. Lance McCullers was the ace of this squad and hurt his arm in the ALDS. Verlander didn't pitch in 2021. Not a choke.
2022: Astros win the World Series in 6 games against Philly.
2023: This one I could be convinced either way. I lean to it not being a choke because this team barely made the playoffs, winning just 90 games. They finished with the same record as the Rangers, and won the division because of head-to-head record. The Astros were down 2-0 in the series to start.
However, they did return to Houston up 3-2 needing only 1 win in 2 games to advance. But once again, the Astros couldn't win a game at home, and lost the series in 7 games. They also went 2-14 with runners in scoring position in Game 7, so that looks pretty bad. Inconsistency plagued this team all season, and it showed up again in the ALCS.
I'm willing to say the 2019 World Series against the Nationals was a choke for the reasons I listed above. And I'm kinda on the fence about 2023. The Rangers were the better team for most of the regular season, but not winning 1 game at home in the ALCS is hard to ignore.
Maybe you can convince me one way or the other in the comments! Go 'Stros!
Dec 7, 2023, 5:17 pm
Victor Caratini! Dylan Coleman! Jake Meyers as the primary centerfielder! Not exactly the moves of Astros’ fans dreams at baseball’s Winter Meetings this week in Nashville. Still, better hearing they added a couple of guys on the margins than that they traded Alex Bregman or did something else as absurdly damaging to the Astros’ 2024 chances. And remember, it’s still early in the offseason. The meetings were pretty much a dud for “wow” transactions until Wednesday’s word that the Yankees were about to make the move to acquire superstar Juan Soto from the Padres.
The Astros signing Caratini to a two year 12 million dollar free agent contract seems an overpay, especially with the Astros clearly attempting to stay below the first Competitive Balance Tax threshold of 237 million dollars for the coming season. However six mil per season for an okay backup is indicative of how flush with cash the industry is. If the Astros get 2023 Caratini he’ll be fine as the Astros’ catcher complement to Yainer Diaz. Organizationally the Astros came to the conclusion that it was time to move on from Maldy, his contributions notwithstanding. It probably helped that Dusty Baker is not here to a pitch a little fit over it. Justin Verlander will get over it. Frankly he should enjoy pitching with a vastly enhanced chance of offensive support from his catcher.
2023 Caratini was significantly better in his playing time than Maldonado was in his. A .711 OPS won’t have Caratini confused with Adley Rutschman or Will Smith but that would be a solid number for a backup catcher. In 2021 and 2022 Caratini’s OPS came in at a weaker .632 then .642. Maldonado’s OPS was .606 this year, his best since 2020. As a receiver, Caratini is reasonably well regarded. His pitch framing numbers were above average, Maldonado’s pitch framing was graded as about the worst in the big leagues. Caratini was terrible at throwing out opposing base stealers, so was Maldonado. Maldonado led the Major Leagues in passed balls for the second year in a row, in a hair under half the innings caught Caratini had zero (like Diaz).
Maldonado was a gritty and respected veteran. The preponderance of playing time he got in 2023 hurt the team. The Catching Yoda/Mensa/Mastermind stuff became a bit much. When Framber Valdez threw his no-hitter Maldy wet-nursed him through it? As Framber unraveled most of the second half of the season, how bad would he have been if not for Maldy? Cristian Javier stunk for months, how bad would it have gotten if not for Maldy? As Hunter Brown regressed by the month (starting when Maldy bumped Diaz as his primary catcher), if not for Maldy, what? Come on.
Yainer Diaz’s time is now. 100-plus starts behind the plate are his. The Astros’ offensive history at the catcher position is mostly feeble. Brad Ausmus played more than twice as many games as Maldonado as an Astro, and was at least as bad as Maldy at the plate. Alan Ashby made himself into a solid contributor through most of the 1980s. “Ash” hands down has the best offensive career posted by an Astros’ backstop. Still, it’s not like Diaz is chasing down Mike Piazza or Pudge Rodriguez. No Astro has hit 20 home runs in a season as a catcher. Yainer hit 23 homers as a rookie but only 14 of them while catching in the game. Diaz seems a lock for 20 with 30 certainly not out of the question.
The 27-years-old Coleman is a cheap flyer taken. I mean, if you couldn’t make it on the laughably bad Royals… For the Astros Coleman is a straw grasp for a bullpen which saw its depth badly damaged with the presumed free agent departures of Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton. The only certain arms for the Astros’ ’24 pen are Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, Kendall Graveman. And Rafael Montero since finding a taker for the two years 23 million dollars left on his contract is a fool’s errand. So that leaves three or four slots to fill. Coleman actually had a fine 2022 with the Royals posting a 2.78 earned run average in 68 innings. His 2023 was a disaster, with him regularly pretty much having no clue where he was throwing the ball. 19 walks in 18 and 1/3 innings led to an 8.84 ERA and spending most of 2023 in the minors. His control was lousy there too. Coleman was wild through his college career and in the minors. The Astros hope to fall into something somewhat helpful. Oh yes, Coleman works cheap. He’s not salary arbitration eligible until 2026.
Meyers works cheap too. He’ll make a little more than the MLB minimum salary of $740,000. Hence the Astros’ give him another shot after two poor offensive seasons. Despite his pop gun throwing arm, Meyers’s defensive metrics are very strong. Carrying his bat (if better than atrocious) is more viable with Diaz regularly in the lineup, and if Jeremy Pena shows improvement after his mediocre sophomore season. 2024 would have been the expected debut season of Drew Gilbert in the Astros’ outfield, but he’ll debut as a Met via the Justin Verlander trade.