Why Astros' strong start isn't surprising

April 8th, 2021

Everybody knows what the Astros did. This is about who they are.

This is about who they were last October, when only their own fans were rooting for them to somehow make it back to the World Series, and about the way they’re still playing right now for a great old baseball man named Dusty Baker. The Astros have come out of the gate at 5-1. They look as if they can mash with any team in the game. They not only don’t go away. They keep coming. Whatever you think of the Astros and what they did, this is some big baseball story.

Baker’s team was just 29-31 during the regular season of 2020, but then got on a roll in October, and came back from 0-3 down to the Rays in the American League Championship Series before finally losing Game 7. Even in that one, they were down, 4-0, and got a couple of runs in the eighth to throw one more scare into Kevin Cash’s team.

Now the Astros are back to being what they were for a long time, which is the favorite in the AL West. Do they have enough pitching to continue to be one of the best teams in the whole league? The season will tell us that. But what we know already is that they are as tough an out as there is.

In the last two years, since losing Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, it has been quite a timeline. First, the Astros lost Gerrit Cole to free agency that December. Then the world found out about their sign-stealing operation. Then they had to cope with Justin Verlander getting Tommy John surgery to essentially miss all of 2020 and ‘21. This past winter they lost another key player to free agency -- the 2017 World Series MVP in George Springer, who also helped carry them to Game 7 against the Rays.

When you see how talented the Astros still are, you remember all over again how talented they were. And wonder all over again why they thought they needed to break the rules to win. Because the Astros of 2017-19 were that good, all the way until they couldn’t close out the Nationals in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series in '19.

It all blew up, of course, after that. The Astros brought in Baker, respected mightily in the sport for half a century, to somehow hold the team from falling completely apart. Baker will turn 72 in June. If the Astros do somehow win another World Series, Baker will be about the same age that Jack McKeon was when McKeon won the 2003 World Series managing the Marlins. Baker signed up for one last ride. It has been some ride thus far.

On Tuesday, the Astros sent their ace, , out against the Angels. Mike Trout got him for a two-run homer in the first inning. That was it. won the game for the Astros with a two-run homer in the ninth. By the way? Correa is eligible for free agency after this season, and could be out the door, too.

But he is hitting. was hitting .320 after Tuesday’s game, was at .409. So was , who was nearly an MVP not long ago. was at .308 and Correa was at .280. The Astros finished second to the A’s in the AL West last season. Through Wednesday, the A’s had won one game this season. And they might end up chasing the Astros again.

Think about this: The Astros didn’t have Verlander last October and they didn’t have Cole, who struck out 13 for the Yankees on Tuesday night. They didn’t have Charlie Morton -- the guy who got the final out in 2017 -- because he was pitching for the Rays against his former team in the ALCS. The Astros still came as close as they did to the Series.

Baker was talking about Correa’s two-run homer on an 0-2 pitch to win Tuesday’s game. He was talking about how early it is in the season, and how so many guys are “in and out” and “trying to find their groove.”

Somehow, against all odds, the Astros found their groove last October. Still have it this April.