’05 Houston Astros

Along with other historical markers, the 2005 season marked the first time the Astros franchise made an appearance in the World Series. After having a rough start, only winning 15 of their first 45 games, the team went 74-43 over their final 117 games to clinch the NL wild card.

Houston faced the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Playoff round. After 4 games, Houston took the series 3 games to one. This series featured an 18-inning game 4 that records as the longest playoff game in history, ending with walk off homerun from Chris Burke for a final score of 7-6.

Next, they were up against the division leading St. Louis Cardinals. After losing 11 out of their 16 matchups, Houston thought they were going to have difficulties. Fortunately, the baseball gods took over and blessed the team with a certain spark of magic that lifted them to winning the series 4-2. This win advanced the Astros to face off against the Chicago White Sox. Sadly, Chicago was having their best season in years and swept the series 4-0.

Many memorable players were among this team: #5 Jeff Bagwell, #17 Lance Berkman, #7 Craig Biggio, #21 Andy Pettitte, #44 Roy Oswalt, and # 54 Brad Lidge. This 6 made the biggest impact on the throughout their years and received many awards. Craig Biggio and longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell were inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and honored with a memorial outside Minute Maid Park. Roy Oswalt received the Most Valuable Player award for the 2005 National League Championship Series.

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Offseason Pickups

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After losing key players like Colby Rasmus (LF) and Jason Castro (C) to free agency after the 2016 season, the Astros are looking to pick up others to fill in those spots. Evan Gattis is the most obvious choice to take over the starting catcher’s duties.

Their first roster move of the offseason was made on November 3, claiming veteran outfielder Norichika Aoki off waivers from the Seattle Mariners (waived at the end of the regular season). If a player is waived, any team may claim him. If more than one team claims the player from waivers, the team with the weakest record in the player’s league gets preference. If no team in the player’s league claims him, the claiming team with the weakest record in the other league gets preference.

His left-handed bat with a high contact rate makes Aoki a reliable leadoff option for the Astros in 2017. The Japan native batted .283 with 24 doubles, four doubles, four homers and 28 RBIs with a .349 on-base percentage last season. Since the current lineup is loaded with power hitting right-handers, the addition of this “small ball” outfielder couldn’t be more of a blessing. As of now, Aoki is the number one option to start in left field but we could possibly see him in centerfield throughout the season. Complimenting George Springer in right, he provided solid defense with impressive range and a cannon for an arm.

There is still talk about finding new options at the starting pitcher position along with making corrections in the bullpen. Free agency is the only bag to pick out of for now.

From Big League to Cartoon Scene

Jose Altuve has been an All-Star in both leagues, a batting champion, Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger award winner, and was even featured on the cover of a Sports Illustrated magazine. What is he up to now? Starring in a cartoon show of course.

Along with 4 other Major League players, Altuve voiced over a cartoon version of himself for an episode of the Cartoon Network show “Uncle Grandpa,” which aired at 11:15 a.m. CT on Saturday, October 29. He said he had provided his voiceover before the season during spring training in Florida.

In the show, the big leaguers are asked to help the team of “Losers” build up their mental baseball skills in preparation for their big game. Some of these exercises involve goofy looking yoga techniques along with scenes that mimic samurai training with the baseball bat. A fancy spin by using the “third-eye” technique to be able to know where the ball is going before hand is even used.

Cartoon Network posted a couple of videos on YouTube to show their participation in the episode. While they are still only on screen for a couple of minutes, the idea of using yoga and samurai training to prepare to play is a nice comedic touch to anyone who knows about playing the sport.

Gloves of Gold

The Rawlings Golden Glove Award is awarded annually to one player of each fielding position in both the National and American Leagues. The winners of this prestigious award are those who exhibited outstanding individual fielding performances throughout the season. Since 1957, Rawlings has picked 18 commemorative selections for this honor except for 3 years. Who votes for this award? The managers of coaches for each team; though they cannot vote for their own team. Additionally, a sabermetric research organization goes through the fielding stats to provide the top prospects to be voted for.

This year, the ‘Stros have three players up for the award. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, left fielder Colby Rasmus and right fielder George Springer are among the finalists at their position in the American League.

Kuechel is the only pitcher in franchise history to win a Gold Glove (2015). His numbers were not nearly what they were last year due to his injury and pitching less innings but he was still tied for the AL lead with Masahiro Tanaka with seven defensive runs saved. R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays) and Justin Verlander (Tigers) are the other two finalists at this position.

Only two outfielders from the Astros history have won this award. Rasmus, ranked third in left field, didn’t commit an error in 186 chances and had 13 outfield assists saving 14 runs. Springer, ranked third in right field, only had two errors in 322 chances and had 12 outfield assists saving 5 runs. Mookie Betts (Red Sox) and Adam Eaton (White Sox) are the other two finalists in right field. Brett Gardner (Yankees) and Alex Gordon (Royals) are the other two finalists in left field.

The link in the picture will take you to see the rest of the finalists. The winners are to be announced November 8th on ESPN.

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Under the Radar

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Fresno’s Opening Day Promo for the 2015 season.
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A Corpus Christi Hooks promo ad

Along with their Major League Baseball team, the Houston Astros organization has 8 minor league affiliates. 1 Triple-A, Double-A, Single-A, and Short Season league teams and 4 Rookie League teams. Minor league teams are used for organizations to train and improve younger players who aren’t ready for the bigs without giving them up to other ball clubs. There is a perception that once a player gets drafted or joins an organization that they are automatically on the Major League team. Even though there are some that do, this is not true for most. Since Major League teams are only allowed to have 25 players on the team at any given time, it is necessary to have active players readily available in case of an injury. Most “call ups” are brought in from the two top tier teams of the organization: The Fresno Grizzlies and the Corpus Christi Hooks. These two have produced numerous key essentials to current Astros lineup, including Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

The Fresno Grizzlies (AAA) reside in Fresno, California and compete in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division along with affiliates of the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Francisco Giants. Even though they were third in the division, the Grizzlies finished with a .510-win percentage.

The Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) reside in Corpus Christi, Texas and compete in the Texas League South Division along with affiliates of the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and San Diego Padres. The Hooks were explosive this season winning over 60 percent of their matches.

If you ever wondered what it is like to watch a minor league game, I encourage you go and see one next season. 2 years ago I got to a Hooks game and it has the mixture of a college and major league feel. I would compare it to a college all-star game if they had one. If you click on the pictures above, they will take you to their team’s respective websites. I encourage you to research some of the other minor league teams around the area and catch a game or two.

Farewell to Tal’s Hill

Tal’s Hill has seen its last games from centerfield in 2016. Those who have either seen a game at Minute Maid Park or just on TV would recognize the famous hill that sits 436 feet away from home plate; furthest centerfield fence in the MLB. Not just any hill, Tal’s included an in-play flag pole that made few but significant effects on all players having to deal with it. Seemingly enough, highlight videos have even been made to applaud all the spectacular plays made on and by Tal’s Hill. Astros’ owner, Jim Crane, believes the new centerfield will allow for fans to add to their experience of watching a live major league baseball game: either close down by the field or up high overlooking downtown Houston through the glass windows. The new centerfield will be completed in time for the 2017 season. Some of the pieces of the outfield padding, flag poles and the dirt from Tal’s Hill are going into an auction for fans to buy as keepsakes. From the park’s opening in 2000, the Astros have made many changes and upgrades in the past couple of years: The Diamond Club behind home plate, the club level and the home clubhouse. While Tal’s Hill will be missed, there is a lot of excitement for the new and improved replacement.

Hope For Next Year

As we enter October baseball, the Astros have the luxury of sitting at home and watching the playoffs on television. Already with slim chances at the wild card, Houston couldn’t pull off the two sweeps they needed. The 2015-16 season showed promise for the future of the ball club bringing in rookies Yulieski Gurriel and Alex Bregman that made huge additions to its offense; Tyler White and A.J. Reed didn’t have great starts to their careers. Chris Devenski also made his debut out of the bullpen and was possibly the most consistent reliever throughout the season. Along with the new pieces added, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa shined just as much as expected. Houston’s “big 3” batted 1st, 3rd, and 4th for a majority of the year with a .291 batting average collectively. Together they had 542 hits, 300 total runs, and 274 RBI’s; leading the team in all three categories. With these three continuing to progress in their still very young careers and using their leadership to grow their teammates, the Astros’ future look very promising. Altuve won his second consecutive batting title or the American League along with being named the team’s MVP for the third time in four years. Devenski was named the team’s Pitcher of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Collin McHugh received the Darryl Kile Award, which is given to the player who best portrays professionalism and likeability with teammates, fans, and the media. Houston finished the season in third place of the American League West with a record of 84-78. 2017 looks to be full of excitement as the Astros will start at home in April. The schedule is posted and tickets will be available.