Let’s not take the excellence of these Astros for granted

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 04: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros hits a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 04, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Let’s not take the excellence of these Astros for granted

   The Astros are about to win 100 games for the fourth time in their last five full seasons. They’ve won 100 so often that we’ve come to see it as the norm around here. Try once a century.

   Check this out: Between 1906 and 1910, the Cubs won 100 games four times in a five-year stretch. Until the Astros came along, that was the only time in the 130-year history of Major League Baseball it had happened. (The Dodgers will also win 100 for the fourth time in five years.)

   This comparison is a good jumping off point in understanding how spectacular this era of Astros baseball has been. It was never this way before, and at some point this too shall pass.

   In the Astros previous 55 seasons, before 2017, they’d won 100 games just once (1998). If you’re of a certain age, you lived through multiple generations of lousy baseball.

   Now, an entire generation has grown up with October baseball penciled onto their calendars. This isn’t one core group of players, either. Since breaking through with a playoff appearance in 2015, Jose Altuve is the only constant.

    (Lance McCullers Jr. was also on that 2015 team, but he missed the entire 2019 season and has been to the mound just three times this season.)

      It’s the highest tribute to an organization when the team is almost completely turned over, including the manager, general manager and pitching coach, and the team simply rolls along.

   This franchise’s talent, culture, leadership, ownership and management is the best in all of Major League Baseball with the possible except for Houston native Andrew Friedman’s leadership of the Dodgers.

   Some great teams haven’t crossed the 100-win threshold so often. The Big Red Machine had just two 100-win seasons. The Braves won 100 three times in five seasons in the ‘90s, and the Orioles did it three straight years between 1969 and 1971.

   The Yankees? They won 100 three times in four seasons between 1977 and 1980 and four times in six seasons between 1936 and 1941.

   The Astros are headed to the postseason for the sixth straight season and the seventh time in eight seasons under Jim Crane’s ownership. Those seven postseason appearances are two fewer than they made in their first 52 seasons of existence.

  At a recent Astros home game, I chatted with a veteran scout from an American League team.

   “Do you guys understand how special this is?” he asked. “This just is not supposed to happen. You can’t say enough good things about how they’ve operated this franchise.”

   As former Astros manager AJ Hinch said a couple of years ago: “You understand this isn’t normal, right?”

   Since 2015, the Astros have won 45 more games than any other American League team and kept things going despite losing a massive amount of talent to free agency: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Joe Musgrove.

   Other than perhaps Seattle, no other 2022 contender has as much elite young talent as the Astros. Jeremy Pena is 24; Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker 25; Alex Bregman 28. Two members of the starting rotation, Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia, are 25. Jose Urquidy is 27, Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. 28.

   And if the Astros can get Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez back healthy and playing at a high level, they’ll begin the playoffs as the AL favorite thanks largely to a pitching staff that has been the league’s best: No. 1 in both bullpen (2.93) and rotation ERA (3.08).

   Offensively, the season has been a challenge thanks to Michael Brantley missing the final three months and the hand injuries that have Yordan Alvarez sidelined.

   Still, only the Blue Jays and Yankees have scored more runs among AL teams. However, the Astros lineup is so dependent on Alvarez that it’s hard to imagine them going very far without him.

   Because this team has been so good for so long, expectations could not be higher. What the Astros have is a track record of winning in October. A second World Series trophy would validate so much of what has happened since the winning started.

   These expectations sometimes detract from the sheer enjoyment of watching these guys play baseball. Years from now, we’ll be the ones to tell our grandkids we were lucky enough to enjoy this team.

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