So the Houston Astros are headed to a different ALCS. How offended do you have to be?

Within the Seventies, influential psychologist Paul Ekman recognized six fundamental feelings skilled in all human cultures. I am undecided if he studied sports activities followers, however I am guessing you had one of many following six reactions to the Houston Astros beating the Oakland Athletics on Thursday and transferring on to the American League Championship Series:

1. Happiness. You are an Astros fan. You are ecstatic. You’ve got gone on StubHub seeking to see if any of these 11,000 World Collection tickets can be found. You may have an enormous smile in your face, you are texting upbeat messages to your pals, you lastly dug out that “2017 World Collection Champions” T-shirt to put on with pleasure and you’ll clear your schedule to look at the upcoming video games.

2. Shock. Possibly you are an Astros fan, however in all probability not. You are only a baseball fan. You do not actually care all that a lot in regards to the cheating scandal from the offseason. You are simply shocked the Astros truly beat the Twins and now the A’s — with out an injured Justin Verlander, thoughts you — after going 29-31 within the common season. You may have neither a constructive nor a adverse sentiment a few sub-.500 staff presumably reaching the World Collection, and also you form of like this NCAA tournament-style bracket. You’ll maintain watching the playoffs since you like baseball.

3. Disgust. You are a baseball fan and you do not like what the Astros did and really feel their 2017 title is without end tainted and also you actually did not need them to advance. You do not actually just like the expanded playoffs. You do not be ok with it, however you may maintain watching. Plus, it will likely be enjoyable to have a staff to root in opposition to within the ALCS.

4. Anger. All the pieces in regards to the Astros already makes you sick. You did not assume the punishment was extreme sufficient. They dirty the sport. The Astros advancing makes you sweaty, you do not wish to discuss to anybody, and also you vow to drink White Claw and watch “Seinfeld” reruns till spring coaching begins. You undoubtedly aren’t going to look at the ALCS.

5. Concern. You possibly can’t imagine a sub-.500 staff will attain the World Collection. Possibly it is time to simply surrender sports activities altogether and at last learn “Coronary heart of Darkness,” which you skipped in highschool English class and simply skimmed the CliffsNotes model.

6. Unhappiness. You possibly can’t imagine Brad Pitt is not going to succeed in the World Collection … once more.


Three causes to root in opposition to the Astros within the ALCS:

1. They have been cheaters.

“I do know lots of people are mad,” Carlos Correa mentioned after the Astros swept the Twins within the first spherical. “I do know lots of people do not wish to see us right here. However what are they gonna say now? We’re a strong staff. We performed nice baseball. We received a sequence, on the street, in Minnesota. So what are you gonna say now?”

Correa was somewhat extra diplomatic after Thursday’s 11-6 win over the A’s, saying the Astros didn’t use the concept of followers not wanting them right here as motivation. “Completely not,” he mentioned. “We’re motivated as a result of we wish to win. We would like to have the ability to deliver one other championship to town of Houston. We all know what it seems like so we would like to have the ability to have that feeling as soon as once more. 2017 was such a particular yr celebrating with the followers in Houston, so the factor that motivates us is to get to really feel that once more.”

2. They completed 29-31 within the common season, outscoring their opponents by simply 4 runs.

This was the potential hazard of a 16-team playoff format — or of any future 16-team or expanded playoff format. A mediocre and even sub-.500 staff can get sizzling on the proper time, and if two of them get sizzling, all of a sudden the World Collection would not really feel that necessary. You’re crowning the winner of a match, not the most effective staff in baseball. This goes in opposition to the lengthy custom of baseball: It is supposed to be laborious to make the playoffs. The extra groups that do make the postseason, the much less necessary the common season turns into.

Irrespective of which facet of that debate you stand on, nevertheless, we have now to acknowledge that this was not a traditional season. Is 60 video games even sufficient to guage a staff? It is potential — and maybe even probably — that the true expertise of the Astros is far larger than that of a .500 staff. Take into account the Astros’ worst 60-game stretches over the previous three seasons — seasons wherein they received 100-plus video games every year:

2017: 29-31 (July 6-Sept. 13, minus-5 run differential)
2018: 33-27 (June 20-Aug. 31, plus-54 run differential)
2019: 35-25 (June 7-Aug. 17, plus-80 run differential)

They did not have any 60-game stretch like 2020 in 2018 or ’19, however they did have an analogous stretch in 2017, which they rebounded from to win the World Collection (with the assistance of Verlander, acquired by way of commerce on Aug. 31, and some rubbish cans).

Now, it is fairly clear the 2020 Astros aren’t pretty much as good because the 2019 Astros. Gerrit Cole is gone. Verlander and Yordan Alvarez have been injured. At one level, the Astros had a bullpen with 9 rookie pitchers. Final yr, the Astros went 50-17 in video games Cole and Verlander began within the common season, however they nonetheless went 57-38 in video games began by everybody else — which remains to be a 97-win tempo over a full season.

The Astros went 2-7 in extra-inning video games, however a major offender to their struggles within the common season was the offense. Sure, it was minus the prodigious expertise of Alvarez, however all of the regulars declined in wOBA from 2019, when the Astros had probably the greatest lineups in MLB historical past, a number of considerably so:

Participant 2019 2020
George Springer .401 .373
Jose Altuve .374 .274
Michael Brantley .367 .356
Alex Bregman .418 .339
Carlos Correa .380 .303
Yuli Gurriel .364 .276
Josh Reddick .308 .299

What occurred? Bregman has mentioned he by no means felt proper all season apart from a recreation or two, however is that an evidence or simply one thing you say? Altuve, for positive, regarded terrible all season, continually pulling off the ball. The haters will counsel the Astros have been simply dishonest in 2019. It may very well be that the gamers did really feel strain to carry out within the wake of the dishonest scandal. It may very well be that the Astros lollygagged by way of the common season, realizing that in a weak division they have been just about assured of a playoff spot.

Anyway, because the offense erupted within the AL Division Collection win over the A’s — slugging 12 residence runs in 4 video games and averaging 8.3 runs in opposition to an excellent Oakland pitching workers — we’re reminded that, sure, there may be a variety of expertise on this lineup, irrespective of the regular-season numbers. In different phrases, possibly the 60 video games have been simply an aberration and the Astros are again.

“You realize, we by no means gave up as a result of we had a down yr offensively,” Correa mentioned. “We did not cease going to the cage, we did not cease staying motivated on the market, and I feel that helped us on this sequence. We stored going to the cage every single day, we stored placing within the work, and it confirmed on this sequence and we have been ready to achieve success.”

3. You are a Dodgers fan and the considered shedding one other World Collection to the Astros is insufferable.


Causes to root for the Astros:

1. Dusty Baker. The legendary supervisor in all probability wants a World Collection win to get elected to Cooperstown, a becoming ending to an ideal profession as a participant and skipper. Plus, he is 71 years previous and wears wristbands along with his picture on them. How are you going to not root for him?

“It has been a protracted, powerful street, however we’re midway there. I am grateful and glad. However I nonetheless have some happiness left to get,” Baker mentioned.

2. Altuve and Bregman are nonetheless the undersized mighty mites who’re so enjoyable to look at.

3. Did you see Correa soar on that hanging slider from Frankie Montas?

4. Framber Valdez‘s curveball.

5. Springer’s annual October brilliance.

6. All these rookies. Eight of their 13 pitchers on the roster in opposition to the A’s have been rookies.

7. Michael Brantley, skilled hitter.

8. Zack Greinke beginning one other Sport 7 of the World Collection.

9. You rooted for the Stormtroopers.

OK, you are not going to root for the Astros. However on this strangest of seasons, it is maybe apropos that we have now a shedding staff simply 4 wins from the World Collection. No, it isn’t precisely a Cinderella story. This isn’t George Mason reaching the Closing 4. It is a acquainted face, a staff with a latest historical past of nice success. They is likely to be the unhealthy guys within the baseball panorama of 2020, however generally the unhealthy guys win.

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