Top of batting order carries Houston to the top

Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman could keep Astros in contention for years

November 2nd, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- As pushed through a crowd of Astros to accept his World Series MVP trophy, made his way to a corner of the broadcast set, where he could hear a chorus of fans chanting his name. Down below, was about to propose to his girlfriend, dropping to one knee on the Dodger Stadium field. took it all in, wide-eyed, the Astros' 5-1 victory in Game 7 still fresh.

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All season long, en route to winning the first World Series in franchise history, the Astros relied on baseball's best offense, a strong pitching staff, a keen eye for analytics and much more. But more than anything, they relied on a nucleus of four of the game's best hitters, who combined to punish Dodgers pitching throughout the seven-game World Series.

"We all know how good we are and how much talent we have in that clubhouse, but we never take it for granted," Altuve said. "We tried to make every pitch count, every swing count. We were all on the same page. And that's what gave us the victory tonight."

It is the same formula that led the Astros to 101 regular-season wins, that may lead Altuve to an American League MVP Award, that sparked the top four hitters in Houston's lineup to drive in 23 of the team's 32 World Series runs. It is also a formula more than a decade in the making.

Altuve came first, a $15,000 signing as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2007. Despite his stature -- he stands just 5-foot-6 -- and relative anonymity in scouting circles, Altuve willed his way up the Minor League ranks, debuting for the Astros a month after they drafted Springer in 2011. One year later, Houston selected Correa with the first of three consecutive picks atop the Draft. Then in 2015, with the second overall Draft pick, the Astros took Bregman.

One by one, they debuted. One by one, they developed into stars: Altuve, the three-time batting champion and five-time All-Star; Springer, a 30-homer talent whose journey included overcoming a stutter in his youth; Correa, who has given tirelessly to hurricane relief efforts in both Houston and his native Puerto Rico; Bregman, author of the Astros' Game 5 walk-off win.

It was in that game that these four hitters demonstrated the full fury of what they can do. From the fourth through seventh innings, Springer, Altuve and Correa went a combined 7-for-7 with three home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored. Altuve hit a game-tying three-run homer in the fifth inning, then a go-ahead RBI double in the seventh. Springer, like Altuve, scored three times in four innings, tying things up again with a homer in the seventh. Correa fell a triple short of the cycle in those four innings alone.

Similar events unfolded in Game 7, which saw Springer double, homer, score twice and record two RBIs before the end of the second. Bregman and Altuve both stole bases. Each time the lineup turned back over, no matter who Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called to face them, the four bled ink onto the scorecard.

"The Astros are an amazing team, and they deserve to win, no doubt," Dodgers pitcher said. "Once Springer hit that home run and made it 5-0, five makes it pretty tough. The Springer home run was definitely a tough blow."

Seven innings later, Houston was World Series champions, a title it plans to defend with vigor. All the Astros' top four hitters are under team control through 2019, after which Altuve can become a free agent. The rest are here until at least 2020. The oldest among them, Springer, is 28. The youngest, Correa, is 23.

"We're going to look back in five, 10, 15 years, and it's going to be, 'I can't believe all those were on the same team,'" catcher Brian McCann said.

Choose your adjective. Springer called what the Astros accomplished "unbelievable and indescribable." To Correa, "it means everything."

"It's special man," Correa said. "I can't recall an argument or a discussion in the clubhouse. We love each other. We're like brothers in there, and we back each other up. And I think that's what makes this team so special."

"Best friends for life," Bregman added as champagne dripped off the bill of his cap. "It's just a special bond. We go to work every day together, but it's more than that. They're my brothers, and I love them to death."

Considering the ages of Houston's 1-4 hitters, it is not unfathomable to think what unfolded on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium could indeed repeat itself, that this party may just be beginning. That is part of the formula, too. After accepting his MVP hardware out on the field, Springer re-entered the clubhouse, where a teammate shoved the World Series trophy into his hands. Springer joked that he did not want to let go.

The reality is that he may not have to.

"I think we're the team to beat for a while," Bregman said. "We're going to have a target on our back next year, and we're young. We've got a special vibe in this clubhouse, and I guarantee you everybody -- everybody -- in this clubhouse is going to come back next year, ready to win another one. We tasted victory today. We tasted a lifetime dream that came true. And we want more. This is only one championship. We want a lot more."