DON'T COUNT 'EM OUT

Ken Hoffman's grand-slam reminder that the Astros can still take it back

The Astros have proven they can win when it counts. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Win or lose (stop worrying — the Astros have not yet begun to fight in the World Series), this has been the team's greatest, and my favorite, season ever. I've been to more games at Minute Maid Park, and watched more games on ATT SportsNet, and enjoyed every minute, all the wins and even the losses. Thankfully there were more wins, 107 of them, the most in Astros history.

Rooting for the good guys

It's corny to say the Astros are the good guys, but they really are. After they won the American League pennant, and the players' families came onto the field, it looked like parents day at sleepaway camp.

When Jose Altuve blasted a walk-off 2-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the Astros to the World Series, the ball disappearing over the fence was only the third-sweetest image of the night. No. 2 was Altuve bunching his shirt together as he rounded third base so his teammates couldn't tear it off him — "The last time they did that, I got in trouble with my wife." The best moment was Altuve's 2-year-old daughter Melanie running into daddy's arms.

Real winners

This was the year only two pitchers won 20 games, and all of them were Astros. Justin Verlander finished 21-6, including a no-hitter. Gerrit Cole was 20-5 and the last time he lost a regular season game was back in prehistoric May. One of them will be named the American League's Cy Young Award winner in a few weeks.

Yordan Alvarez is a sure shot to win American League Rookie of the Year. He socked 27 homers and batted .313 after being called up in June. And the American League Most Valuable Player Award surely belongs to Alex Bregman, who clubbed 41 homers and drove in 112 runs. They say in sports, the best ability is availability. Well, between May 25 and June 18, Astros All-Stars Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa all were out with injuries. Bregman played every game and carried the Astros to a 14-8 record during that stretch. And Bregman really didn't kick his season into high gear until July. That's an MVP. Yeah, he's a cocky brat, but he's our cocky brat and we love him.

The MVP, Cy Young winner, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year?

It will be the first time in baseball history that one team boasted the MVP, the Cy Young winner and Rookie of the Year. But it shouldn't stop there. A.J. Hinch absolutely deserves to be Manager of the Year. The Astros lineup is loaded, sure, but it takes a calm, mature hand to keep the clubhouse together and egos in check. Hinch has a fun side, too, playing along with announcer Julia Morales for touristy vignettes in baseball cities on the road.

And when it hit the fan, and an Astros official hurled inappropriate comments toward female reporters, and Astros executives botched the team's response, and still won't come clean on details, it was Hinch who stood tall in the clubhouse and said, no, The Astros will not tolerate any behavior like this, no way, under no circumstances.

That's a leader.

Even the ballpark food is a winner

Mat Drain, the Grand Poobah of Pickles, and his Aramark staff at Minute Maid Park stepped up their game this year, too. New items included Smoked Pork Burnt Ends Topped Tots, Calabrese Shrimp Sandwich, Frito Pie Corn Dog, and my choice, a simple but elegant Prime Rib Sandwich. And for dessert, how's Kahlua Tiramisu sound?

You practically had to eat with your pinky out this year. Smoked Pork Burnt Ends Topped Tots? Might be time to for Human Resources to check Drain for performance-enhancing Blue Bell. There were 13 Dollar Dog Nights at Minute Maid Park. In Houston, fans get a regular-sized frank on Dollar Dog Night. Other cities go cheap with smaller dogs that should have a toothpick stuck in them.

Kudos to the TV team

Here's how dominant our Astros were this season. If I got home a few innings late and turned on ATT SportsNet, I was shocked when the Astros were trailing in the game. I always expected them to be up 4-1. Our broadcast team of Todd Kalas, Geoff Blum, and Julia Morales was solid from spring training to the last game of the regular season. You didn't realize how wonderful they are until you listened to how horrible the Fox announcers were.

Step up, Astros fans

Buck up, Astros fans, the World Series is not over by a longshot, which if you listen to the oddsmakers, that's what the Astros are. Mattress Mack and I are still betting on them. Me in a theoretical sense, Mack in every sports book from Mississippi to Vegas.

Altuve, the greatest Astro ever, started slowly this season due to an injury. He was hitting .262 at the halfway mark. I remember a radio caller asking the host if he thought Altuve could get back to .300 this year. The announcer said nope, we're too deep into the schedule. Oh yeah? Altuve was over .300 less than two months later and finished at .298 with a career-best 31 homers. He's clutch in the post-season, too: 13 home runs in only 45 games.

Continue on CultureMap for Ken Hoffman's final thoughts on why he's not giving up on the Astros.

CultureMap.com

The 2020 baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced on Tuesday. Here is how some of Gow Media's personalities would have voted:

Patrick Creighton


Barry Bonds: The closest thing we will ever see to Babe Ruth in our lifetime. 7x MVP, 14x all star, 8x Gold Glove, 12x Silver slugger, 4x 30/30, 40/40 in 1996, single season HR king, all time HR king, single season walks king, all time walks king, all time IBB king. Charter and sole member of the 700/500 club (also the 600/500 club and 500/500 club) The most feared hitter in baseball for nearly 2 decades (led league in walks 12x).

Roger Clemens: The greatest pitcher of the modern era. 7x Cy Young; MVP, 11x All star, 7 ERA titles, 2 pitching triple crowns, and a fastball that will take your head off. 6x 20 game winner. 5x strikeout king, 3rd all time strikeouts. 354 career wins It cant be a hall of fame without the games greatest. Bonds and Clemens are 2 of the all time top 10 greats.

Sammy Sosa: There's only 1 player in baseball history to hit 60+ HR in a single season 3x. Slammin' Sammy. One of only 3 NL players to hit 160 RBI in a season in the modern era (since 1900). 609 career HR. 1998 MVP. 7x top 10 MVP. 7x All star. 6x silver slugger. Helped put baseball back on the map with historic 1998 HR chase with Mark McGwire. 10 straight years 35+ HR, 8 straight years 100+ RBI.

Curt Schilling: 6x all star, 4x top 4 Cy Young (3x 2nd). Won 21+ games 3x. 3x 300+ Strikeouts, 3x World Series Champ, Postseason stud. 11-2 career postseason, 1993 NLCS MVP, 2001 WS MVP, Bloody Sock, broken curse, he is Legend. Schilling also has the highest K/BB ratio of any member of the 3000 Strikeout club.

Jeff Kent: incredibly underrated player. most HR by a 2B all time w/ 377. 2000 MVP. 5x all star 4x silver slugger. managed to become one of the all time best hitting 2B despite manager Dallas Green trying to destroy him while he was with the Mets. 9 straight years of 20+ HR and 90+ RBI (8 of those 9 over 100 RBI) 4x top 10 MVP, 3rd all time RBI as 2B. 5th All time OPS at 2B. 4th all time doubles at 2B.

Larry Walker: one of most feared hitters for a decade. 1997 MVP, 7 Gold gloves, 3 silver sluggers, 5x all star, 3 batting titles. 6x batted over .320, 4x batted .350 or better. Walker batted .313 for his career with 383 HRs and a career OPS of .965, making his career OPS higher than anyone on the ballot this year except Bonds and Manny Ramirez.

New additions to the ballot for this year:

Manny Ramirez:
"Manny Being Manny" may have started with his 1st career hit - it came vs Yankees. It was a ground rule double for bouncing over the wall but Manny thought it was a HR and started trotting around the bases. He was halfway to 3rd when umpires finally were able to get his attention. What followed was 14 years of being one of the most feared hitters in MLB history. A 12x All Star, 2x World Series champ, World Series MVP, batting champ, and 9x Silver Slugger. He drove in 100+ 12x, including 145 in 1998 and a league leading 165 in 1999. 12x 30+ HRs, including 45 in 1998, 44 in 1999, and a league leading 43 in 2004. He's a .312 career hitter with 555 career HRs. A HOFer by any metric.

Derek Jeter: In his first year on the ballot, Jeter should be an absolute lock for enshrinement. He is a member of the 3000 hit club with an incredible 3465 hits (6th all time), he's also a career .310 hitter. Jeter was a Rookie of the year, 14x All Star, 5x World Series Champ, World Series MVP, and won 5 Gold Gloves & 5 Silver Sluggers. He has a reputation for being a clutch player with a knack for big hits as well, earning the nicknames "Capt. Clutch" and "Mr. November". Most hits among any SS ever. Yankees all time leader in Hits, Doubles (544), and Stolen Bases (358). 13x 100+ runs scored, 8x 200+ hits, 12x over .300 AVG. He is also the postseason record holder for most career Hits, Singles, Doubles, Triples, Runs and Total Bases.

A.J. Hoffman

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Derek Jeter

I like a few other guys here, namely Gary Sheffield, but Jeter is the only one in the same stratosphere of deserving as the other two guys, And until Bonds and Clemens are in, they need to limit the amount of fringe guys who do get in.

Charlie Pallilo

Derek Jeter: Only first time ballot guy worthy of election. He is both rightfully a legend, and overrated by many.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens: Two peas in a dubious ethical pod. Hundreds of guys cheated in their era. Barry and Roger are arguably the greatest all-around player and greatest pitcher ever. Unlike Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez, Bonds and Clemens were Hall made men before their later "phases."

Curt Schilling: Career of ups and downs, but the ups were way up. Bonafide top tier ace for three different franchises. One of the greatest postseason pitchers ever. Pitched through heart of steroid era, so even better than some of his stats indicate on surface.

Larry Walker: Final year of main ballot eligibility. Offensive numbers inflated by years with the Rockies and not the most durable guy, but a tremendous offensive and defensive player. It was a joke how little support Lance Berkman got last year. Walker was better.

Closest miss, for now, Scott Rolen.
Third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall. Rolen was basically Adrian Beltre with 895 fewer games played, yet with 3 more Gold Gloves and three more All Star team selections.Jeff Kent also deserves more consideration than he has gotten.

Todd Farquharson

YES VOTES

Derek Jeter: Baseball Reference lists his most "Similar Batter" over his career as Astros Craig Biggio. Jeter will fly into the HOF on the first ballot and deserves it. But why did Biggio have to wait until his 3rd ballot?

Curt Schilling: It's time. Let Curt get to the podium in July.

Barry Bonds: Barry would already be in the Hall if he hadn't been a steroid guy. He also never would have shattered Hank Aaron's homerun record if he weren't on the juice. As time passes this has become part of the history of this era and the sport, and again, he would be in the HOF if his career ended before he did his first steroids.

Roger Clemens: See Barry Bonds. I'm for putting Roger in the Hall. He's one of the best pitchers of all time.

Billy Wagner: Question for a hitter, "Did you enjoy facing Billy Wagner?" Hitter, "No!" Billy was dominant in his era and one of the tops relievers in the history of the sport. The stats back it up.

Jeff Kent: This is a close one. Most players with 1500 RBI are in the HOF (unless they are roid guys or not yet eligible). He has the most home runs ever for a Second Baseman, 5th most doubles and 5th highest slugging at the position. Also has a MVP award. Rubber stamp it, in.

Scott Rolen: Rolen is 10th in WAR among all time 3rd Baseman, of which all are HOF'ers except for future HOF'er Adrian Beltre. He keeps the right company so put him in.

Andruw Jones: Of all the outfielders that have ever played the game, Jones was one of the best all time at defending his position. Add his 434 homers, 1200+ Runs and RBI and you've got a worthy candidate.

Omar Vizquel: He wouldn't go in for his hitting. Subjectively, he's one of the GOAT fielding shortstops. Objectively, he has the highest fielding percentage for SS ever. Defense matters.

NO VOTES

Larry Walker: His best years by far were in the altitude of Colorado. A career.348 hitter at home, while only .278 on the road. Can't vote for him on my imaginary ballot.

Manny Ramirez: I'm not convinced Manny would have been as prolific a hitter without PEDs.

Todd Helton: Last year I thought Helton and Lance Berkman should have the same fate. Berkman cruelly didn't even get five percent of the vote. And Helton is another guy that benefitted by playing in Coors Field, in his case, his entire career. Home BA .348, Away BA .287. Home runs at Home, 227. Homeruns Away, 142. If you double the away numbers, he's not in the HOF club.

Gary Sheffield: See Manny Ramirez.

Andy Pettitte: Andy is on the bubble. 14 of his 18 years his team made the playoffs which is amazing, but did his W-L record benefit from being on good teams? His career 3.85 ERA is fairly pedestrian and would be the 2nd highest among all HOF pitchers.

Sammy Sosa: Poster child for PEDs elevating a player's performance. Steroids changed the entire trajectory of Sosa's career.

Alfonso Soriano: Good, not great.

Adam Dunn: If the HOF isn't good enough for David "King Kong" Kingman there's no Dunn luck here.

Jason Giambi: Evaluating HOF candidates is part a comparison game. Yet is difficult to compare guys that loaded up on HRs and RBI in the late 90's and 2000's. Especially guys mentioned prominently in the Mitchell Report for PEDs.

Bobby Abreu: A consistent, durable performer that scored and drove in a lot of runs. Not quite a HOF'er though.

J.J. Putz: Certainly not a Hall of Famer, but I give him credit for lasting ten years in the majors and earning over $38 million.

Craig Larsen

I've had the distinct honor to attend and cover six inductee classes in Cooperstown as a Media Member. In 2007, I witnessed the late Tony Gwynn, along with the "Mr. Streak" Cal Ripken Jr who arguably saved the game coming out of the 1994 work stoppage. That entire weekend, you had goosebumps. When you see a "Derek Jeter" appear on the ballot, to me, everyone else is a secondary consideration. He's in that iconic realm, much like Ripken & Gwynn were. Jeter is obviously appearing on the ballot for the first time, the only question is will he be unanimous ? I'd like to meet the writer who doesn't vote him in on his first try.
Jeter would be my "lone pick" for the 2020 enshrinement, and he's certain to bring the goosebumps !!!

Fred Faour

To me, it is not a legitimate Hall of Fame until Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds get in. The voters have put in inferior players every year. Other than that, Derek Jeter should be an absolute lock. You can also make a surprisingly good case for Jeff Kent, who was widely disliked and probably has no chance.

That is as deep as I would go on my ballot.

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