No one since 1976 has won a World Series without losing a playoff game. Of course, the MLB playoffs were smaller at the time: the ’76 Cincinnati Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies in three National League Championship Series games, then swept the New York Yankees for four World Series games. Before that, the playoffs were a more unique event, as the World Series was the only playoff series until Major League Baseball added two championship series in 1969. Twelve teams swept the World Series between 1907 and 1966, beating another playoff team from across the league.
Well, even if baseball doesn’t expand the playoffs again this year, the currently undefeated Houston Astros will be near uncharted waters. They won 106 games in the regular season, thus skipping the league’s new wild-card round to start their playoffs in the playoffs, sweeping the Seattle Mariners in the division series, four games without a break. Kindly dispatch Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees. Sweeping the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series would give the Astros an 11-0 lead in the playoffs, a postseason record MLB has never seen — even if winning five or six games The series also makes them safely one of the most dominant playoff teams. Their only recent opponents were the 2005 Chicago White Sox and the 1998 Yankees, who went 11-1 and 11-2, respectively, on their way to lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy (or, as the man for whom it was once named, put it, “a piece of metal”).
A certain type of dominance is nothing new for the Astros. The last time they were at least not in the ALCS was in 2016, a few weeks before Donald Trump was elected president. Their success was also portable: it didn’t end when MLB told them to stop cheating, or when manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow went into exile in the wake of the scandal. It didn’t end when various stars (Grit Kerr, George Springer and Carlos Correa) left the team in free agency. But if there’s anything unique about the 2022 Astros, it’s just how quiet they are when it comes to success. They don’t fly as high as other seasons. Their 2019 World Series runner-up has an OPS of 0.848, the highest in MLB from 2017 to 2022, with a 16-point lead.their 2017 series winner Followed by. (The team’s OPS+ was 111 this year, down from 123 in 2017, which again leads every team from 2017 to 2022.) The team’s running differential was 280 in 2019, and it has consistently beaten during that period. The rest of the MLB season, through 2022, the Dodgers have a margin of 334. The Astros used to be loud, not just when they hit the trash can, but the way they filled out their stats. Now they’re something else: the most ruthless, boring circular saws in baseball.
Despite the turnover and turmoil in the front office and coaching bench, the Astros still enjoy a lot of continuity. Second baseman José Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman have been key to their entire post-2017 game, but have roots deeper than them. Every hitter in the starting lineup has been part of the organization since at least 2019, and every starting pitcher has been part of the organization since at least 2017, but usually longer. The Astros’ taste in player development may have changed when Dusty Baker and James Click replaced Hinch and Luhnow as manager and general manager, respectively, but there are clear reservations about the way the Astros play and how they perform.
For years, the Astros’ offensive identity has revolved around getting the ball to work. In the league’s 180 individual team seasons since 2017, no Astros have ranked in the top 30 in ball speed or in the top 15 in launch angle. They hit a lot of home runs, but only their 2019 team, which hit a pitch on a 4.5 percent outing percentage, made the top 25 in that span. What makes the Astros really special is the wood over the leather. The three teams with the highest contact rates from 2017-2022 — how often the bat catches the ball — are all the closest to the Astros, with contact rates ranging from 79.5% to 78.9%. (At 76.8 percent, the 2022 team is No. 23.) Being picky helps, and the Astros have long done a good job of not swinging on bad courses. They drove just 26.8 percent of their balls out of the strike zone during that period, the fifth-lowest rate in MLB. Overall, their pitching percentage (45.7) has been lower than every team except the Yankees and Dodgers over the years.
This year, the Astros are more aggressive. Their pitching percentage is 48 percent, which ranks 15th in the league. Their highly coordinated hitters are still playing, though, as their touch rate is second only to the Cleveland Guardians. Not coincidentally, Houston ranks second in the league in strikeouts and eighth in walk rate.The Astros are one of them At least What happens to the lucky teams in baseball after they play. Although the Astros ranked 13th in average ball speed and 11th in contact percentage as defined by Statcast as a “thump,” or hits at speeds over 95 mph, they were 11th in the game. The batting average is 25th.astronaut experiencesuffered The batting average is 0.249, which ranks fifth in MLB. In fact, Houston ranks 12th with 0.248.
Perhaps the biggest recognition for Houston’s offense is that it’s fundamentally unlucky, but still ranks sixth in wRC+ baseball (112). It also helped that the Astros hit 214 home runs, fourth in the league. If you’re looking for a change in Houston’s approach since the firings of Luhnow and Hinch, it’s probably here: Beginning in 2020, the Astros’ hitters start swinging with an unprecedented uppercut. For the past three years, the team has fired at about 14 degrees, higher than Luhnow and Hinch’s 11-12 degrees. (The league average is about 12 degrees.) The Astros aren’t hitting as many home runs as they used to, but the swing might help fend off losses from Correa and Springer, who averaged every 162 games had 28 and 36 home runs, respectively, in their careers. Also helpful was the revolutionary strategy of “Having Jordan Alvarez,” the 25-year-old designated hitter hitting a career-high 37 bombs this year.
When it comes to pitching, the Astros have come up with a fairly simple formula: Pour in the heat, and throw in some goodies for balance. They’re throwing fastballs 51.7 percent of the time, a marked improvement from the 40s in the previous three years. Across the staff, their average fastball speed was 94.2 miles per hour, led by several fireball rescuers (Ryne Stanek, Bryan Abreu, and Hunter Brown) who were 96 and older. But even the Astros starters worked hard: Justin Verlander (95.1) led a group of others sitting in the 93-94 range. The Astros staff also got a lot of outs, including sliders, curve balls and chips, all of which gained positive running value over the course of the Astros season. Verlander’s fastball, which won’t surprise anyone, is the most valuable pitch on Houston staff, 24 more than the year’s average. (Verlander, who is 39 in 2022, is throwing harder fastballs than he was 29 in 2012.)
Pitchers make defense easy. Houston’s employee strikeout rate of 26 percent is just behind the league-leading New York Mets. But the defense held on, too, producing the third-lowest average goal allowed (0.268). The Astros are one of baseball’s most shift-obsessed teams, using it half the time. The Astros are fifth in defensive runs (67). Of those saved runs, 34 came from infield transfers and 13 from outfield transfers, not anything the players did in particular. The Astros do have some great defenders, including shortstop Jeremy Peña (15 saves) and right fielder Kyle Tucker (13). But most importantly, Houston is what happens when an elite pitcher meets an ideal defensive plan. The result is a staff ERA of 2.90 behind the Dodgers. And they’re usually stingy in the playoffs, as opponents have only 2.6 offenses per game against them.
one thing No What’s holding back in the playoffs is the offense. At least, kind of. The Astros are scoring 4.4 points per game, just shy of the 4.6 they scored in the regular season. Some of their best hitters (especially Peña and Bregman) are still playing, but some have been brutal. Tucker’s postseason OPS is .634, and Altuve has all three hits on 32 at-bats. The Astros’ terrible conceit all year is that while they’ve been doing well, their offense has room to grow if a few balls bounce in their direction. You can tell how likely it is that Altuve will go on to hit a .094 against the Phillies.
Add it all up and Houston has built a humble regular season and playoffs on a pillar that excels in almost every way. But for such a skilled team, the Astros will have a hard time flying under the radar if they finish the job at hand with a sweep and end an undefeated playoff run. It will be harder to deny these Astros’ place in history as one of baseball’s greatest teams.
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