Astros stand on the brink of modern MLB dynasty

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Dynasty? Did I hear someone say dynasty?

As hard as it might be for life-long Houston Astros fans to comprehend and embrace, the Astros rank as closest thing to a dynasty existing in this era of Major League Baseball. And winning the World Series for the second time in three years would make talk like that a realistic reality.

That’s right, sports fans. Not the iconic New York Yankees, with its newest version of the Bronx Bombers setting home run records, who have been knocked out of the postseason three times in the last five seasons by the Houston Astros. Not the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series in the middle of three consecutive losing trips to the Fall Classic.

Instead, we’re talking about the franchise formerly known as the Last-ros, Houston’s laughingstocks of baseball, losing a whopping 324 games from 2011-2013 while posting three straight 100-plus losing seasons – including a team-record 111 in 2013.

But since then, the Houston Astros have qualified for the postseason four times in the last five years, and they have won three straight American League West titles.

For the Astros, winning a second World Series title in three years, on the heels of winning 100 games in three straight regular seasons, would put Houston in rare and elite company. In Major League history, only two other teams – the 1929-31 Philadelphia A’s and the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals – won at least 100 games three times AND two World Series titles in the same three-year span.

But taking it to yet another level, the Astros have been winning in a historically dominant fashion. Over the last three season, Houston holds a MLB-record +752-run differential over its opponents – 150 more than the 1998-2000 Yankees.

And no one will ever forget how Houston got to its second World Series in three years. Diminutive all-star second baseman Jose Altuve provided only the fifth postseason walk-off home run to secure a pennant ever before the 43,357 hometown faithful who watch the instant classic four-hour heavyweight battle and the ensuing triumphant celebration, a moment that will forever remain enshrined in the annals of baseball history.

Altuve’s historic American League Championship Series two-run bomb to left-center gave Houston a 6-4 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the best-of-seven game series Saturday night. And of course, the ultimate test to the formula for success will be on the line when the 115th edition of the World Series against the National League champion and wild card qualifying Washington Nationals begins tonight at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

In previous eras, the MLB titans once relied on raiding the free-agent market to build their pennant-collecting clubs.

But today, Houston stands at the forefront of the modernized approach, seeking to be intelligent franchises proficient at accumulating and developing players before they reach their peaks. The Astros rank as the clear model of contemporary success and the ability to strike the ideal balance between internal maximization of young talent and acquisition of expensive, win-now contributors.

The Astros have struck at the right moments in recent years to stack the deck in their favor come October, while the Yankees and Dodgers have repeatedly disappointed in that regard. And to accentuate the moves, most players have improved upon joining the Astros.

Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole stands out as a case in point after being underachiever as the 2011 overall No. 1 draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since coming to the Astros in a 2018 offseason trade, Cole has become arguably the most dominate starting pitcher in baseball.

Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) enters the World Series with 358 total strikeouts in 2019, the most by anyone since Randy Johnson (419) in 2001, and will take the mound in Game 1. In the midst of one of the most amazing runs of any starting pitcher in recent history, Cole has gone 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP and 258 strikeouts in 169 1/3 innings in his past 25 starts, including the playoffs. His dominant start to the postseason (3-0, 0.40 ERA, 32 strikeouts) has extended history, and the Astros have won each of his past 16 starts.

Of course, the trade deadline signing and second coming of future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts) brought Houston its first World Series title in franchise history in 2017, and he has been an integral part of the Astro quest for another this season.

But while the Astros have received widespread praise for the key trades and signings, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow should also be lauded for the deals he refused to make, protecting Houston’s prospect base and future. The Astros’ management and in-house development has ensured, at least to the greatest extent anything can be ensured in baseball, that correct moves spawn intended results.

Given their esteemed histories, MLB fans across the county expected the Yankees and Dodgers to do what it takes to stay a step ahead of the league. But in this day and age, the Houston Astros represent what both storied franchises want to be.

Still not buying it? Try walking around New York City for a day wearing a Houston Astro baseball cap. I did this summer. The combination of scornful respect and envy I experienced from loyal Yankee fans was astounding, as if the Astros had become the baseball royalty New York yearns to be once again. And that was even before Houston’s latest ALCS triumph.

Can you say dynasty? That sweet word by any other name just might be the Houston Astros.

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