Call Your Shot

Sports Illustrated cover coming to life?

George Springer has been an integral player for the Astros' rebuild. Courtesy photo

One of the most controversial Sports Illustrated covers of the last several years is from 2014 with Astros’ centerfielder, George Springer, gracing the cover. What makes this issue unique is the title predicting that the Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017. This doesn’t seem like an unusual prediction today, but in 2014, it seemed pretty ridiculous. Ben Reiter, the author of the SI article, joined Unfiltered on ESPN 97.5 this week and said that “…people hated the cover… and we got a lot of hate mail, but that turned around when they got off to a good start.”

The Astros had Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve on the 2013 team, but Carlos Correa hadn’t made his major league debut and the Astros lost 111 games that year. So predicting the Astros would eventually become a World Series Champion in 2017 after a season like that, seemed pretty unlikely. The Astros did improve in 2014 and for the first time since 2010, the team didn’t finish in last place. Flash forward to 2017 and sure enough, the Astros are in the World Series and George Springer is a big reason why.

Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander are two more reasons why the Astros had so much success this season. In fact, Keuchel made a huge impact without even picking up a baseball. Reiter said on ESPN 97.5 this week that “Keuchel going on the record trying to light a fire under the front office” was a monumental move that led to the Astros acquiring stud pitcher, Justin Verlander. The Astros even went against their typical analytics driven approach, according to Reiter, and bet it all on a 34-year-old pitcher to help lead their playoff push.

Now that the Astros were set with two dominant starters, they went to work on winning the AL pennant led by manager, A.J. Hinch. Reiter is a big proponent of Hinch and believes that “He's kind of the heart of the organization in a lot of ways, and I think they picked the perfect guy.” Hinch did a fantastic job of managing the pitching staff in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees. In a day in age where you could see seven different pitchers from each team in an elimination game, Hinch opted to go with only two pitchers, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. Hinch’s ability to balance analytics with the eye test made “Game 7 of the ALCS about as stress-free as I could imagine,” said Reiter.

Ben isn’t a sorcerer, but he’s clearly insightful and Astros fans will love that he’s sticking with his original 2017 World Series prediction. Let’s just hope that SI's, Ben Reiter, had it right all along.

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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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