Springer's impact on Astros hard to overstate

October 7th, 2020

To understand what means to the Astros, here’s a good place to start. When he was on the injured list a couple of years ago, he was asked to remain in uniform and to take up his usual spot in the dugout and to do all the things he would normally do.

So he did some cheerleading and dished out an insult or two to teammates, umpires, coaches, etc. All in all, he seemed to have the time of his life. Afterwards, he served as the disc jockey and moderator for the postgame victory celebration.

In short, no player has meant more to the Astros than Springer during a remarkable six-season run in which they’ve been to the playoffs five times and are one victory from a fourth straight appearance in the American League Championship Series after Tuesday’s 5-2 Game 2 victory over the A’s in the AL Division Series.

Springer homered twice on Tuesday, and that’s 15 postseason homers and 11 doubles in 36 contests since Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, and we’ll get to that one in a moment.

He has been at the center -- or near the center -- of virtually every good thing that has happened to the Astros during this era. His joy and energy and laughter are infectious, and isn’t there something cool about working alongside someone who never seems to have a bad day?

After a 29-31 2020 regular season in which the Astros looked as if their time had passed, they’re now 4-0 in the postseason and will attempt to book another ticket to the ALCS on Wednesday.

If others wondered about this Astros team with its infusion of youth besides the core of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, Springer said: “I’ve played with these guys in my whole career. I know what they can do. I've seen it happen day in and day out for six-plus years. And I believe in them.

“Yeah, sure, we had a little bit of a harder year this year. And I think we expect to play well all the time. And when you don't, it is a little bit hard. But this is a team that believes in one another, sticks together and really, really tries to enjoy the day.”

And now?

“I mean, the playoffs are the playoffs,” he said. “Every team starts over again. You’re in, and anything can happen. This is supposed to be fun. You got to enjoy it. Because like I've said before, you don't know if you're ever going to get back here. 

"There are guys that go their whole careers without stepping foot on the field in the playoffs. So, it's an honor. It's fun. You want to try to enjoy the moment.”

When the Astros made Springer the 11th pick of the 2011 MLB Draft, they designated him as a cornerstone for the reconstruction of the franchise. At the time, they could not have known how correct they would be.

Two moments stand out. When former manager AJ Hinch moved Springer to the top of the lineup on May 24, 2016, it gave the entire franchise -- and the lineup -- a different look.

He was not the typical leadoff hitter, but as Major League Baseball put a higher and higher priority on power, he was perfect. Springer loved being the guy that set a tone for the entire team, and his 39 leadoff homers are the eighth-most in MLB history.

The Astros are 407-256 in the regular season since then. That’s 15 more victories than any other AL team (Cleveland), and second only to the Dodgers in MLB.

“George loves to compete, and that’s what pros do,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You look at LeBron James. Not to compare the two, but the energy and the competition is something you can't give a person. That’s something that's been in there since he was a kid. The guys love to watch George play, and they love to play beside him.”

And then there was Game 1 of the 2017 World Series. Springer struck out four times in that game. The noise on social media and elsewhere was so loud that teammates and Hinch reached out to him to say, “You’re our guy.”

Springer hit .440 in the next six games of that World Series with five home runs, a 1.693 OPS and a World Series MVP trophy.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that the enthusiasm and chatter has never changed as he wraps up his seventh Major League season. He turned 31 last month and is about to get his first taste of free agency.

Astros fans can’t comprehend his playing anywhere else, but with Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick also headed for free agency and with Justin Verlander probably out for the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Astros for sure will be different next year. Reddick said he looks at this postseason run as a last dance. Springer won’t go that far.

“I'm looking at it that every day is a new day,” Springer said. “You understand what each day presents, and you go from there. Honestly whatever happens at the end of the day happens, and you cross that bridge when you get to it.”