One of best ever? Astros INF has a case

Awards, accomplishments continue to pile up for foursome after 5 years together

October 18th, 2021

BOSTON -- On Sept. 3, 2016, former Astros manager A.J. Hinch wrote out a lineup card that had at first base, at second, at shortstop and at third for a game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. It was the first time the four players all started on the infield together.

The four went a combined 4-for-17 in a 12-4 loss to the Rangers -- a game that dropped Houston 10 1/2 games behind Texas in the American League West. If you’re an Astros fan, there was no reason to remember that steamy afternoon at Globe Life Park. But it signaled a start of one of the most memorable runs in club history.

Over the next five years, Gurriel at first, Altuve at second, Correa at short and Bregman at third have represented excellence on the diamond for the Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series for five consecutive seasons with a core that includes those four on the infield.

When the Astros play the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS tonight at Fenway Park, Gurriel, Altuve, Correa and Bregman will play in their 64th career postseason game together. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most postseason games played by four teammates at any position in Major League history.

“I have giant admiration for all of them,” Bregman said. “They’re all amazing players, all amazing teammates, and they work extremely hard. Honestly, it’s a pleasure to be part of it.”

Astros manager Dusty Baker said the foursome will go down as one of the best infields in history, and that’s probably based mostly on what they’ve done in the playoffs. Correa and Altuve are two of the greatest postseason performers of this generation, but Bregman and Gurriel have had huge moments in the playoffs, too.

Where they rank among the great infields of all time is debatable, but their longevity isn’t. In the Wild Card era (since 1995), Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Gurriel have started 267 games together in the regular season, which is the fifth most in baseball in that span among infielders.

Adrián Beltré, Jose Lopez, Richie Sexson and Yuniesky Betancourt of the Mariners lead the way since 1995 with 304 games started together, followed by Robinson Canó, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees (290), Luis Castillo, Alex Gonzalez, Derek Lee and Mike Lowell of the Marlins (279) and Scott Brosius, Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch and Tino Martinez of the Yankees (268).

“It's one of the best infields around, one of the best infields in history offensively and defensively,” Baker said. “It really helps to have some guy beside you that you know his range, you know what he is capable of doing, you know his range on pop-ups, on ground balls. And so being familiar with the guy next to you is very, very important, similar to football. If you have the same front four and same linebackers, then you probably got a hell of a defense.”

Gurriel, Altuve, Correa and Bregman would have to stay together a long time to approach the longevity of the infield that started the most games together in Major League history. Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Bill Russell started 810 games together for the Dodgers, beginning in 1973. That amounted to just over 60 percent of the team’s games during those 8 1/2 seasons, some of which overlapped Baker’s time as a Dodgers outfielder.

“They were the best when I got there, and some were there after I left from there,” Baker said.

The accomplishments of the Astros infield are impressive. Altuve is a seven-time All-Star who has won three batting titles, five Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove Award and the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award. Correa was the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, is a two-time All-Star and is the front-runner to win the Gold Glove Award at shortstop this year. Bregman is a two-time All-Star and finished second in the AL MVP Award voting in 2019. Gurriel won the AL batting title this year, and he could also win his first Gold Glove Award at first base.

“It's been fun to go out and compete with those three guys and try to win,” Bregman said. “Whether it's being down in games and having to try to fight back or having a lead and trying to play good defense to preserve the lead, it's just been fun competing through the ups, the downs, the good, bad, the ugly. It's been a blast, and I wouldn't want to do it with anybody else.”

While Bregman and Altuve are in the middle of long-term deals with the Astros and Gurriel’s option for 2022 is a lock to be picked up, Correa is a free agent who figures to be one of the most valued names on the market this offseason. The end of the line could be near for the Astros' storied infield, which is trying to reach its third World Series in five seasons.

“I hope it doesn’t end,” Bregman said.