HOUSTON -- Something unexpected -- or maybe it's completely expected -- has happened to the Astros at Minute Maid Park the past two Octobers. They've morphed into a great offensive team. Not an OK team. Not even a good team. Better than that. Actually way better than that.On one level,
HOUSTON -- Something unexpected -- or maybe it's completely expected -- has happened to the Astros at Minute Maid Park the past two Octobers. They've morphed into a great offensive team. Not an OK team. Not even a good team. Better than that. Actually way better than that.
On one level, this should not qualify as shocking given that the Astros have put together a pair of 100-win seasons and are attempting to win their second straight World Series title as they prepare to host the Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.
Those postseason numbers at Minute Maid Park stand in stark contrast to their regular-season production at home, when the Astros have not been a great offensive team. Nor is their won-loss record in Houston all that extraordinary.
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Let's go to the Astros' regular-season numbers:
• 57-24 on the road this season (best in the Majors)
• 46-35 at Minute Maid Park (11th overall)
• Home: 4.60 runs per game (12th)
• Road: 5.23 runs per game (3rd)
You can dig deep into the numbers and not come up with a satisfying explanation. Are the Astros' right-handed hitters too pull happy -- that is, too tempted by the short left-field wall?
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Or are they not pull happy enough? Or, as MLB.com's Mike Petriello suggested in June, Minute Maid Park may have become a pitcher-friendly ballpark over the past two seasons with the removal of Tal's Hill in center field and the addition of a new hitter's background (which, ESPN's Alex Rodriguez suggested this summer, isn't nearly large enough). The Astros' 3.50 home ERA over the past two regular seasons is the third-lowest in baseball. Their 3.74 ERA on the road is fifth.
"I have no idea," Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. "Our park plays really weird. And the gaps, center field, and then it flies out in the Crawford boxes, and then right field, too. ... It's just one of those things where you can't think about that while you're playing. While I'm watching a game, I might think about it."
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And then there's October. Whether it's better focus or performing well under pressure or inexplicable randomness, the numbers are significantly different from the regular season.
The Astros are 10-1 at home over the past two postseasons, and they have scored 5.55 runs per game. According to Statcast™ data, the Astros have a .284 expected batting average at home in the 2017-18 playoffs. That's better than any team did during the regular season on any home field.
All things considered -- circumstances, level of competition -- this is an extraordinary number, higher than the .263 xBA which the Red Sox produced to lead the Majors during the regular season.
If there's a simple explanation, it could be that a talented team takes its game to a higher level when the lights are the brightest and the stakes the highest.
"Baseball is hard and sometimes you get in these streaks or these unexplainable situations where, I don't know," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If we had it figured out, I wouldn't let us struggle one bit. I'd just sprinkle that magic dust on these guys every time we come home. But we've put up some pretty explosive numbers in this ballpark, any number of games. So I don't look any further into it than that."
On the postseason spike, he said: "We're a good team. We play well in the postseason. I don't know. We lock in obviously. You see George Springer snap his fingers, and all of a sudden has a crazy October thus far. You watch what Marwin Gonzalez is doing. You watch what different players do -- [like] Alex Bregman. They're good players, and they play well when it matters most."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.