Go ahead and admit it, there was a part of you that thought the Astros might never lose again. I thought so.
They had run off 11 straight wins, outscoring their opposition by 60 runs in the process and building a potentially insurmountable division lead of 14 games. Five and six-run deficits- no problem. Pitchers to the D.L- give us another one to insert into the rotation. Nothing seemed to faze this ball club that before Tuesday night was on pace to set the modern day major league win record.
Tuesday’s 9-7 loss to Kansas City was of course inevitable and a speed bump reminder that even teams built for the long haul can’t win them all. The Royals even handed the Stros a dose of their own medicine, erasing a six-run deficit to end one of the most dominant stretches in franchise history, even if it fell one game shy of equaling the consecutive wins record set in 1999 and equaled in 2004.
A.J. Hinch knows he is managing a good team and a deep one.
“For the first couple of months we have answered every challenge,” he said, BEFORE the 11-game winning streak started.
Driving through Dallas late last week I couldn’t find a sports talk host that would even float the possibility of the Rangers winning the A.L. West for a third straight season and that was BEFORE Houston swept the three-game set in Arlington. One sports talker even went so far as to document how far back the rest of the division foes would be if the Astros lost ten straight games.
It hard to imagine anything like that happening.
“We are a much, much different, deeper team than we were in ’15,” said pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. recently. “But we saw an eight game lead evaporate and if we are 10 games up, we want to be 20, if we are 20, we want to be 30.”
Before the season is over, they might be up 30 over whichever sub .500 team in the division, that might offer the most resistance.
They are playing with a confidence that comes with being young and good and growing together even with the additions of veterans like Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
“They slow the game down,” said outfielder George Springer of the veteran trio. “They’ve been there before. They have played in some big time games.”
That is what the 2017 group could very well be approaching. It is hard to imagine the next few months will be a mere formality but there may not be a lot of drama as the summer unfolds.
“We just go out and expect to win every day,” Springer added. “Each day is a new challenge for us.”
That is exactly the approach and the consistency that could prepare the team for the post-season. It is also a mindset that started back in March.
“For us, it’s more the attitude we’ve been bringing since spring which is just, we know what we are capable of. We are going to go out there and prove it on an everyday basis.”
Remember all the conversation generated, by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the All Star Game? Well those days are over after baseball instituted another change this past off-season, instead recognizing the team with the most victories would get to host Games 1 & 2 and then 6 & 7 of the Fall Classic, if necessary. That change came just in time for Astros fans to dream about hosting a Game 7 of the World Series- with the roof open- that is, if it lasts that long.
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