THE PALLILOG

Looking ahead to what is next for the Astros from Charlie Pallilo

Sports Illustrated nailed it. Courtesy photo

The 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros.

I imagine most inclined to be reading this won’t get tired of hearing that title for, oh, all eternity. Earn It was the Astros’ regular season motto. Earn History was their postseason motto. Check and check. Here’s a hodge-podge of thoughts and facts in the exhaustively gleeful aftermath of the Astros finally scaling Baseball Everest.

Anyone still upset about their forced move to the American League?

So so many things about this team go into defining it as Houston’s first baseball champion. When the Astros went from awful to pretty much deliberately fielding an atrocity of a squad in 2012 and 2013, the point was to pour a rock-solid organizational foundation and build a sustained winner on top of it. For as bad as it got however, and despite as tough and to some extent random running the postseason gauntlet can be, it really demanded ultimate victory to justify the grand tear down and build up process. Four years after 111 losses, General Manager Jeff Luhnow is cemented as architect of the best and most successful team in 56 years of Major League Baseball in Houston.

What odds would you have given on the Astros winning the World Series with Jose Altuve batting under .200? The likely AL Most Valuable Player finished six for 31, that’s .194.

The slack was more than taken up by World Series MVP George Springer. From an 0-4 four strikeout mess of a Game 1 that bottomed out a 3-30 stretch to a World Series record-tying five homers, Springer the first player ever to homer in four consecutive games within one World Series.

Three-plus years ago when Sports Illustrated went with the famous (and widely mocked) cover story declaring the Houston Astros 2017 World Series Champs, it was George Springer featured on the cover. Writer Ben Reiter authored the article. His glory pales in comparison to what the Astros secured Wednesday night, but it’s one of the better called shots you’ll see in a magazine. Or anywhere else.

Along the Astros’ postseason path to the title they took out arguably the three biggest brands in the sport in the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers. They definitely defeated the three largest payrolls of 2017. Next year, the Astros roster will remain laughably (delightfully so for Jim Crane and his ownership partners) inexpensive relative to its quality. Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Lance McCullers each play another season making basically the MLB minimum salary. The Astros hold a mere six million dollar option on Altuve -- gee, think they’ll exercise it? -- for 2018 (and then just six-and-a-half mil for ’19). Justin Verlander signed at two years just $40 million of Astros’ money is a tremendous value.

The Astros will not lose a single key player to free agency. Barring contract extensions signed in the meantime, after next season the Astros face losing Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Evan Gattis. That is nothing to worry about now. They have big league and prospect depth for Luhnow to aggressively seek to upgrade a bullpen which decayed from average to OHMIGOD NO! lousy for much of the postseason. The best offense in baseball could get better with the addition of a designated hitter who isn’t the weakest hitter in the lineup.

Champions face many obstacles to title defenses. In baseball the structure of the postseason is as big as any. The Indians, Yankees, and Red Sox should all be strong again next season, with a worthy National League champ waiting after that. But man this Astros club is built to last, and certainly goes into 2018 as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as champ of the American League West. Get back to the tournament, and there’s the chance to go back-to-back. Only twice in the last quarter century has it been done: the Blue Jays in ‘92/’93, and the Yankees three-peat of ’98-‘00.

An altogether meaningless stat, that I nevertheless find cool: in only one other World Series did the win sequence of home and road teams play out as did Astros-Dodgers ’17.  Home team won game one, road team took game two, home team game three, road team game four, home team game five, home team game six, road team game seven.  In another of the great World Series the Reds outlasted the Red Sox that way in 1975. In World Series seventh games the road team is now 20-19.

BUZZER BEATERS: 1. The day after the Astros win the World Series the Texans lose DeShaun Watson for the rest of the season. Life can be simultaneously beautiful and cruel.   2. The centerfield speaker tower at Dodger Stadium is the best sound system I have ever heard.   3. Best parades: Bronze, Rio’s Carnival looks fairly entertaining   Silver, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day   Gold, Astros today.

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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