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Has the party in Houston died down yet?
For the second time in three years, the Houston Astros are going to the World Series after defeating and eliminating the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
A more thrilling ending it could not have been for Astros fans. Franchise stalwart Jose Altuve, who was once thought to be too small to play in the big leagues, delivered one of the biggest and most dramatic home runs in MLB postseason history — a walk-off two-run blast against Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman.
The Astros will go on to face the Washington Nationals in a World Series that figures to be dominated by pitching. Both teams will send out a trio of aces capable of shutting down any offense in MLB.
It’s the first-ever World Series appearance for Washington. For Houston, it’s a chance to win the franchise’s second championship after winning the first in 2017. Needless to say, it will be a big moment for whichever city is fortunate enough to celebrate.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we figured it’s only fair to look back at how the Astros got this far. After all, we did the same for Washington last week.
There are countless reasons the Astros are back in the World Series. Here before you are arguably the five biggest.
They were on a mission from day one
Despite losing to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS last season, it felt like the American League pennant was the Astros' to lose in 2019.
They never lost it.
Though they couldn't run away and hide from the resilient New York Yankees at any point during the season, they established quickly they would be the team to beat. The Astros wrapped up May with a 38-20 record and carried that success all the way to a league-best 107 victories.
A more complete team you will not find in MLB. The Astros offense, pitching staff and defense all finished top three during the regular season. Though they’ve appeared beatable at times in October, no foe has proven strong enough to eliminate them.
Gerrit Cole's dominance
The Astros rotation features two legitimate Cy Young award candidates in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander and three legitimate aces now that Zack Greinke has been added to the mix. It’s Cole, though, who stands out now after dominating each of his three postseason outings.
The soon-to-be free agent has allowed one run over 22.2 innings in October. He struck out 25 total batters in two ALDS starts against the Tampa Bay Rays, before throwing seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts in ALCS Game 3 against the Yankees.
In the regular season, Cole struck out a franchise record 326 batters while posting a league-best 2.50 ERA.
You can back up the Brinks truck for the 29-year-old right-hander during the offseason. First though, he’ll take aim at the Washington Nationals in Game 1 of the World Series.
Jose Altuve does it all
The smallest player is still the most important for Houston. Altuve, who won AL MVP in 2017 and has three batting championships to his credit, clinched their trip to the World Series with a walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman in ALCS Game 6.
That’s the moment that will be replayed over and over again for generations to come. But Altuve’s contributions go much deeper. He’s a table setter when need be. He’s a run producer when need be. He can hit for average or power. He can man second base with the best of them.
As long as he’s healthy, and right now he clearly is, Altuve is the man Houston wants in the middle of every important moment.
Their defense is incredible
On the rare occasion when Houston’s pitching staff needs to be bailed out, the Astros’ defense seems to always rise to the occasion. That was the case in ALCS Game 6. Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa each contributed a defensive gem down the stretch that made it possible for Houston to win.
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) October 20, 2019
With every out being so precious in a game where Houston relied entirely on its bullpen, the five outs those players combined to steal were definitely the difference.
As noted previously, Houston’s defense ranked No. 2 in fielding percentage during the regular season. It wasn’t just one game or one stretch where the defense did its job. It was all season long. But the Astros’ defenders definitely did their best job when needed the most.
The lineup is deep and dangerous
As good as Jose Altuve is — and we’ve established here that he’s really good — he’s never alone. Houston’s lineup has impact players up and down the batting order.
Many of those players have undeniably struggled during the postseason. Alex Bregman has homered only once in October after hitting a career-best 41 during the regular season. George Springer, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and rookie Yordan Alvarez have all been mostly silent as well, with the latter two going a combined 4 for 45 during the ALCS.
But each is also undeniably capable of carrying the team for an entire series. As daunting as the matchup with Washington might seem, it seems unlikely that an MVP candidate like Bregman, or a three-time All-Star like Springer, or the possible Rookie of the Year in Alvarez, will continue being near non-factors.
Houston’s lineup finished third in MLB in runs scored (920), third in home runs (288) and first in team batting average (.274). When it’s clicking, the Astros lineup is nearly unstoppable. More times than not in 2019, it was clicking.
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