2017 Houston Astros
2017 Houston Astros / Franchise: Houston Astros / BR Team Page
Managed by A.J. Hinch
History, Comments, Contributions
After missing the postseason in 2016, the 2017 Houston Astros got off to the best start in franchise history. After 34 games on May 10th, their record was 23-11 and they had a six-game lead over the Seattle Mariners in the AL West. They were only .001 behind the New York Yankees, who had played three fewer games, for the best record in the majors. It was a balanced attack that was behind this success, with utility player Marwin Gonzalez leading the team in both homers and RBIs at that early point. With 7 players having between 15 and 21 RBIs, it was clear that the burden of driving in runs was shared among a number of sources. Manager A.J. Hinch was also deliberately rotating his position players, as 11 different players were seeing regular playing time: eight starting position players, one DH, and Gonzalez and Evan Gattis both filling in nearly every day at a number of positions each. On the mound, Dallas Keuchel was back to his Cy Young Award-winning form, as he was named the Pitcher of the Month in the American League in April after going 5-0, 1.21. He was backed up by Lance McCullers and a rejuvenated Charlie Morton, who were both pitching well every turn on the mound, and a strong bullpen led by closer Ken Giles, who was among the major league save leaders, and set-up men Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Michael Feliz who all had ERAs below 2.15 at that point.
The Astros went to New Yankee Stadium on May 12th, as the two teams with the best records in the majors met. They won the opener, 5-1, behind McCullers and a three-run homer by C Brian McCann, for their 10th win in 12 games. They ended up winning three of the four games, then followed that with a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park to improve to 29-12 on May 17th. Not only did they now have sole possession of the best record in the majors, but they were also 17 games above .500 for the first time since 2004. On May 31st, the finished the month with a 17-5 beatdown of the Minnesota Twins at Target Field during which they connected for six homers. It was their seventh straight victory as they ended the month at 38-16. That gave them 5 more wins than any other team in the majors, as well as an 11-game lead in their division. In that final series against the Twins, the Astros set a team record by scoring 40 runs in the three games. They continued to win as June started, as a 6-5 win over the Texas Rangers on June 3rd gave them 9 consecutive wins. They made it 10 in a row the next day, belting four homers, including two by lead-off hitter George Springer, in a 7-2 win over the Rangers. Among his two long balls was his sixth lead-off homer of the year, and he was leading the team with 16 overall. That game also also tied a team record as it was their 10th straight road win. They made it 11 straight wins the next day before losing a game to the Kansas City Royals, 9-7, on June 6th. By then, they were on a pace to eclipse the major league record of 116 wins in a season, set by the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
The Astros finished the first half with a flourish, demolishing the Toronto Blue Jays, 19-1, to record their 60th win of the campaign on July 9th, the day before the All-Star break. SS Carlos Correa concluded an outstanding first half by banging out 2 homers to reach the 20 mark, and added a career-high 5 RBIs, while three other players - Altuve, Gattis and Yuli Gurriel also went deep. The Astros cleaned up in terms of participation at the 2017 All-Star Game, with Correa, Altuve and Springer being voted to the starting line-up by fans and three pitchers - Keuchel, McCullers and Devenski - also making the AL squad. They were just the fifth team in the last 40 years to head into the break with 60 wins, joining the Los Angeles Dodgers who had recorded the milestone win a day earlier. On July 18th, the Astros got some bad news when they had to place SS Correa on the disabled list with torn ligaments in his left thumb. He was expected to be out for six to eight weeks, but to be back in time for the postseason. At least, the Astros had such a huge lead in the division by that point that they could afford to lose such a key player for an extended stretch without having to fear missing the postseason. The Astros called up 3B Colin Moran, who was burning up the Pacific Coast League and slid 3B Alex Bregman to shortstop during Correa's absence. Then, in his first game on July 21st, Moran tripled and homered in an 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles. The following day, Collin McHugh, one of the team's best pitchers over the past three seasons, made his first start after missing the first half with an injury. However, in that game, Moran deflected a foul ball off his face and suffered facial fractures, putting him on the disabled list as well. 1B Tyler White was the next top prospect to be called up as a result of the rash of injuries.
At the trade deadline on July 31st, the Astros made only one move, acquiring struggling LHP Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays, even though they had been linked with a number of top-rank players expected to be moved. With their stocked farm system and their clear need for additional starting pitching, they had seemed likely buyers, but it was not the case. The deal with Toronto cost them a couple of outfielders, veteran Nori Aoki and prospect Teoscar Hernandez and came just as McCullers returned to the disabled list with a back issue, furthering concerns about the strength of the starting rotation. Still, they ended the month with another strong performance, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 14-7, on the strength of two homers and 5 RBIs by Jake Marisnick. They were at 69-36 with a 16-game lead with two months left, and had 12 more wins than any other team in the AL. They hit their first rough patch at that point though, losing 10 of 13 games in early August.
In late August, the city of Houston was lashed by Hurricane Harvey, which dumped an enormous amount of rain on the area and caused massive flooding in and around the city. As a result, the series between the Astros and Texas Rangers scheduled for August 29-31 was moved to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. The Astros had offered to switch the series with one planned to be held in Arlington, TX starting on September 25th, but the Rangers had refused, prompting the move to a neutral site, a decision that had not made the Rangers look particularly classy. In any case, Houston lost two of the three games in St. Pete, to finish August at 11-17, by far their worst month of the season (they had been well above .500 all four previous months). Their lead in the division race was not under threat, but they were still motivated to make some moves in anticipation for the postseason. The biggest of these was trading for Detroit Tigers ace P Justin Verlander, obtained on August 31st in return for three prospects; they also claimed OF Cameron Maybin off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels that day, and were also anticipating the imminent return of SS Carlos Correa, whose absence had been sorely felt. Correa was back in the line-up for the third game of the series on September 3rd, contributing an RBI single to an 8-6 win that gave Houston a three-game sweep; Maybin also made his presence felt in the line-up by hitting a three-run homer, as Houston seemed to have left the struggles of August behind.
They returned to Minute Maid Park on September 2nd and gave their fans some cheer by sweeping a doubleheader from the New York Mets, 12-8 and 4-1. They also won the third game, but a week later, hit another bump when they were swept in a four-game series by the last-place Oakland Athletics, raising more questions about whether the team might have peaked too soon. They did clinch a division title, their first since 2001 and obviously their first since moving to the AL, on September 17th with a 7-1 win over Seattle. Verlander was the winner, having gone 3-0, 0.86 in his first three starts since his acquisition. On September 29th, they won their 100th game by defeating the Boston Red Sox, 3-2. It was only the second time in team history that they had reached the mark, the first having come in 1998.
The Astros went on to win the first championship in franchise history when they reached the World Series and defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a tightly-fought seven-game series. Springer and Verlander were among the heroes of that championship conquest.
In the fall of 2019, it was announced that Major League Baseball had launched a major investigation into allegations of sign stealing by the Astros during the regular season and postseason. All teams had been warned earlier that the use of any electronic equipment in an attempt to gain an advantage by stealing an opposing team's signs would be severely punished, and evidence clearly demonstrated that the Astros had very deliberately infringed that rule. On January 13, 2020, GM Jeff Luhnow and manager Hinch were both handed a one-year suspension covering the upcoming season, and the team was fined $5 million and forced to surrender their top two picks picks in the 2020 and 2021 amateur drafts. Luhnow and Hinch were then immediately fired by owner Jim Crane.
Awards and Honors
- All-Stars: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Chris Devenski, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and George Springer
- AL MVP: Jose Altuve
- AL Silver Slugger Award: Jose Altuve (2B) and George Springer (OF)
- Ted Berg: "5 keys for the Houston Astros to win the World Series", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, September 26, 2017. 
- Jace Evans: "Astros' sign-stealing scheme began with front office 'Codebreaker' program", USA Today, February 7, 2020. 
- Houston Chronicle: Astros Strong: Houston's Historic 2017 Championship Season, Triumph Books LLC., Chicago, IL, 2017. ISBN 978-1629374864
- Richard Justice: "10 reasons Astros are built for postseason: Houston wins 11th in a row against Royals on Monday night", mlb.com, June 6, 2017. 
- Richard Justice: "Astros gave their city 2017's greatest gift: Ballclub helped Houston heal from hurricane, both on and off field", mlb.com, December 30, 2017. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Severe punishment looms for Houston Astros in sign-stealing scandal", USA Today, January 10, 2020. 
- Andy Martino: Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing, Doubleday Books, New York, NY, 2021. ISBN 978-0385546799
- Brian McTaggart: "Astros overcome much, fulfill expectations: Four years after losing 111 games, Houston rewarded after staying course in savvy rebuild", mlb.com, October 22, 2017. 
- Will Melville and Brinley Zabriskie: "The Houston Asterisks: "Analyzing the Effects of Sign-Stealing on the Astros' World Series Season", in Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 49, Nr. 2 (Fall 2020), pp. 33-40.
- Rob Neyer: Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game, HarperCollins Publishers, New York NY, 2018. ISBN 978-0-0628-5361-5
- Bob Nightengale: "Astros, off to best start, have World Series vision: 'This can be the year'", USA Today Sports, June 8, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "A dark day in MLB history: Astros' cheating scandal taints baseball, ruins club's legacy", USA Today, January 13, 2020. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Astros apologize for cheating, but won't waver on merits of their 2017 World Series title", USA Today, February 13, 2020. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Fueled by powerful bats, Astros lift off to top of AL", July 10, 2017. 
- Mike Petriello: "Haves and have lots: Dodgers-Astros debate: MLB boasts two clubs with 60 wins at All-Star break for first time since 1969", mlb.com, July 13, 2017. 
- Kevin Santo: "Astros pitchers are the kings of Ks, but can they avoid dangerous curves in October?", USA Today Sports, July 25, 2017.