What the Mariners can learn: Houston Astros
What’s there to be said about our hated division rivals that hasn’t already been bemoaned about? They are the class of baseball (my fingers sting just typing that). Sorry to my family and friends that bleed Dodger blue, but there’s a difference between being great in August and being great in October.
While the Dodgers may have more division titles and overall wins, the Astros have proven time and time again that they show up and take care of business in October. In a sport that rewards sustained excellence only to harm their best in a small sample size playoff format, the Astros have overcome what great teams like the 111-win Dodgers, 107-win Giants in 2021, or the 102-win Cleveland team in 2017 failed to do.
The Astros have been to six straight American League Championship Series, going 4-2. Their two losses were in 2018 to one of the greatest teams ever assembled, the 108-win Boston Red Sox. The second was in the “2020 Covid Bowl” to the best team in the American League, Tampa Bay Rays. Every other time, they were the favorites, and they took care of business.
When it comes to the Fall Classic, that is the one that has gotten away from them. After a championship* in 2017, they have come up short to the underdog Nationals and Braves in 2019 & 2021. Both losses stung even more by the fact that they came after the cheating scandal, as well as being eliminated both times in their home ballpark.
This year’s edition has changed quite a bit since the birth of their dynasty in 2017, but it may be their best yet. The Astros are a complete team. They have the best rotation in all of baseball, a top-tier bullpen, and their lineup is littered with players that have OPS+ above 120. While they have a top 6 payroll in baseball, the scariest factor is that their three core pieces of the future, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Jeremy Pena, are making a combined 2.2 million in salary this season.
There is no team that identifies or notices talent the way Houston does. Lose George Springer, Gherit Cole, Carlos Correa? No problem, we’ll win more pennants. When you are so good at building a great team with homegrown talent, it allows you to be aggressive and get the right players in trades and free agency. The Astros nailed trades for Verlander, Cole, and Montero.
While there are questions about how much longer Verlander and Altuve will produce, it does not seem to signal the end of their run like many of us thought when other stars left. The new age evil empire appears to be staying until someone in the American League can consistently challenge them (it’s not you New York).