BEST OF THE BEST

Ranking the 10 greatest players in Astros history

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Putting together a list of all-time franchise greats is never easy. Someone always gets left off. But in the 58-year history of the Astros, there really has not been a lot of stars. They went 36 years before winning 100 games. But there are still plenty of quality players to choose from. For the purposes of this list, players have to have had at least three full seasons with the Astros. Obviously, any such list is subjective, but on the eve of only the third World Series in franchise history, let's honor the best of the best:

10 - George Springer

Astros George Springer Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

You could make a case for a lot of long time Astros in this spot. Jimmy Wynn. Jose Cruz. Joe Niekro. But Springer was one of the key elements to the Astros rise from insignificance to a two-time World Series participant. There are others with better overall numbers, but none of them have a World Series MVP next to their name. He is also tied with Jose Altuve for the most postseason home runs in club history, which is no small feat considering some of the other names on this list. The magical 2017 title never happens without him, and he still has time to move way up in these rankings.

9 - Larry Dierker

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros

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Long before he was a broadcaster and manager, Dieker was a terrific pitcher for a long time for the Astros, winning 137 games over 13 years, including a 20-win season and two All-Star appearances. While his numbers were not overwhelming, he was a very good pitcher for many years.

8-Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens CultureMap.com

Clemens was simply one of the most dominant pitchers to ever play. And while he is better known for his time in Boston and New York, pitching just three seasons in Houston, he won a Cy Young award and helped the Astros to their first World Series appearance. Had he pitched a few more years here, he would be much higher on the list.

7-Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

This might seem high, but Bregman has accomplished a lot in a very short time. He finished top 5 in MVP voting last season and will be no worse than second this season and could very well become just the third MVP in franchise history. He was an integral part of the 2017 World Series and still has a lot of good years ahead of him.

6-Roy Oswalt

Divisional Round - Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros - Game Two

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Like Dierker, Oswalt was simply a solid pitcher for a long time for the Astros, winning 143 games in 10 years and never posting a losing record in that time. He also was the winning pitcher in the NLCS clincher in 2005, sending the Astros to their first World Series. The three-time All-Star finished in the top five in Cy Young voting five times.

5-Lance Berkman

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Like Oswalt, Berkman was a great contributor for a long time. He played 12 years with the Astros, hitting 326 homers, driving in over 1,000 runs and batting .296. He was a five-time All-Star and finished third in MVP voting twice.

4-Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

The Hall of Fame second baseball was a picture of consistency, playing 20 years, getting over 3,000 hits with seven All-Star appearances. His longevity made him the consummate Astro.

3-Nolan Ryan

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers

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While many think of Ryan as an Angel or for his later exploits with the Rangers, the Hall of Famer pitched nine years in Houston and put up remarkable numbers despite a ridiculous lack of support. He made just two All-Star games but won 106 games with a 3.13 ERA with the Astros. His ERA never got above 3.80 for his entire tenure. He struck out an astounding 1866 batters in 1854 innings and threw one of his seven career no-hitters as an Astro. He also was an integral part of the first two playoff teams in Astros history. He led the league in ERA and strikeouts twice. An All-time great.

2-Jeff Bagwell

Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell playing the San Francisco Giants in 1997 Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Stringer/Getty Images

While Biggio got into the Hall before Bagwell, the first baseman was always the more dominant player. In a 15-year career, he hit 449 home runs, won rookie of the year, was named in MVP in 1994, played in four All-Star games, won three Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. He led the team to six playoff appearances during his time with the Astros. His shoulder was shot when the team finally made the World Series in 2005, but he was a great player for a long time, and clearly the greatest Astro until...

1-Jose Altuve

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No, this isn't a reaction to Saturday night's heroics. Altuve has been one of the best players in baseball for years. He has six All-Star appearances in his nine years in the league. He has won three batting titles - no other Astros has one - a league MVP in 2017, a World Series title, and now an ALCS MVP Award as well. He finished third in MVP voting in 2016. He has hit over .300 in five of his nine seasons, and just missed this year at .298. He has been the best player on a team that has made it to the ALCS three straight times, winning two and a World Series, and maybe another this year. He is likely a future Hall of Famer and will be tough to knock off the top of this list.

Just missing out

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Justin Verlander might win a Cy Young this year and will certainly knock someone off this list when he reaches a third season with the team. His two-plus seasons in Houston put him on par with Clemens. He isn't slowing down and is a lock to be on this list. If he continues to perform at this level for the rest of his contract, he could easily crack the top five. As for honorable mentions, Mike Scott won a Cy Young and had a brief run of brilliance. J.R. Richard might have been the most dominant Astro ever, but his career ended too soon. Don Wilson was really good for nine years before his untimely death. Wynn and Cruz were the Astros best players when the team was not very good. Niekro was an underrated pitcher. Joe Morgan was terrific but in his 10 Astros seasons was merely an above average hitter and hit just .261; he thrived when he joined the Reds. Billy Wagner was a dominant reliever for a long time. Dallas Keuchel won a Cy Young and a World Series.

Current Astros with a chance beyond Verlander include Gerrit Cole if he re-signs and has more good seasons. Carlos Correa has been slowed by injuries but if he can ever stay healthy and re-signs with the team, he could be there at some point in the future as well. The current Astros team is the best we have seen, with three on the list and three more potentially making it. There's no surprise they are on an unprecedented run, and No. 1 on the list is the biggest reason.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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