HOUSTON -- When the Astros beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles to win the World Series four years ago, they appeared poised to become a dynasty. Houston didn’t endure a dramatic rebuild, which led to three consecutive 100-loss seasons, to win only one championship. This team had star-studded staying power.
The Astros’ window of contention remains open, though maybe not as wide as it once was. After losing in the World Series for the second time in three seasons following a 7-0 pounding at the hands of the Braves in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, Houston faces another offseason in which a star player is hitting free agency, while the future of 72-year-old manager Dusty Baker is uncertain.
“Yeah, it's tough, but you know something? You've got to keep on trucking, and that gives you even more incentive next year,” Baker said. “It's tough to take now, but this too shall pass. I mean, it really hurts, but it's over.”
The Braves seized control of Game 6 when Luis Garcia gave up a monster three-run homer to Jorge Soler in the third inning, and the Braves added three in the fifth, including a two-run homer by Dansby Swanson. Max Fried (six innings) and relievers Tyler Matzek (two) and Will Smith (one) combined to hand the Astros their second shutout loss of the Series.
“I think it was great, their pitching,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “They were really good. Fried tonight was lights-out. They shut us down. I don't think it's just a problem with our guys. It's just them executing pitches. We always say when there's really good pitching, and they're executing, it's hard to hit. So they did a really good job.”
The Astros, having played all year without Justin Verlander and losing ace Lance McCullers Jr. to an injury after the American League Division Series, simply ran out of pitching in the Fall Classic against a red-hot Braves club. It was the second time in three seasons the Astros watched a National League East team celebrate a championship at Minute Maid Park.
“Second place is not good enough for us,” said Correa, who may have played his final game with the Astros. “But it speaks volumes of how good our organization, our talent in the clubhouse is. Five ALCS in a row, three World Series in five years, I mean, I don't know what else you want to ask from a great ballclub.”
“Our pitchers did an amazing job,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “They were the reason why we got here. We couldn't have done it without them. We lost our ace, Lance. Some guys stepped up big-time, and our bullpen did an unbelievable job. Overall, they were the reason why we were playing on Nov. 2.”
And the Astros were hampered offensively when Correa (6-for-23), Jose Altuve (6-for-27) and Alex Bregman (2-for-21) -- the only three starting position players remaining from the 2017 championship team -- underperformed in the Fall Classic, along with ALCS MVP Yordan Alvarez (2-for-20). In its four losses to Atlanta, Houston scored a total of four runs. The only homers in the Series were two solo shots by Altuve.
“First off, you've got to give a ton of credit to them,” Bregman said. “They were unbelievable. They pitched really well. They swung the bats, played good D.”
Correa, who was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft and who has made the playoffs in every year but one since he made his debut in 2015, is a free agent. Verlander, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year and missed all of 2021, is a free agent, too.
The departures of Verlander and Correa in free agency -- after losing Gerrit Cole (2019) and George Springer (2020) -- would be huge losses, but it would free up money for owner Jim Crane to continue to revamp the roster to contend. After all, Bregman, Altuve, 2021 AL batting champion Yuli Gurriel and up-and-coming stars Alvarez and Kyle Tucker are returning next year.
“Obviously, Carlos was a big part of this team and a big part of why we even got to this point,” Tucker said. “The guys in this clubhouse are really good. Even though we didn’t win today, next year we’ll have another chance to get back here and win it.”
The Astros, with five consecutive trips to the ALCS and three AL pennants in the last five seasons under their belts, were left to digest another season of what could have been, but they aren’t going away just yet.
“I feel bad,” Baker said. “I feel terrible because I'm not really ready to go home. I haven't been home since I left in February, so you know I must love these guys and love what I'm doing. … I looked at the calendar today, and it's almost Thanksgiving. It's OK.”