It cannot be easy to lose a postseason series when you are six outs away from advancing.
Yet, this is what happened to the Houston Astros, who are one of the youngest teams in baseball. They ran into a Kansas City Royals team that came back from four runs or more in the eighth inning or later in an elimination game in game four of the ALDS this year and accomplished the same feat in the Wild Card Game a season ago. That has never previously been done in baseball history.
Carlos Correa, the Astros shortstop who turned 21 years old less than a month ago and became the first player to ever be drafted first overall out of Puerto Rico in 2012, had a game to remember in that game four, which wound up being the turning point of the series. The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy product went 4-4 with 4 RBI, scored two runs, doubled, and homered twice. His two-run homer in the seventh inning off of Ryan Madson sent Minute Maid Park into a frenzy. The next batter, Colby Rasmus, followed up with his fourth home run of the postseason. The Astros had a 6-2 lead and all the momentum.
In short order, the Royals got back to doing what they do best, putting the ball in play and stringing together base hits. The game, and ultimately the series, turned in KC’s favor when Kendrys Morales grounded back up the middle. The ball deflected off of Tony Sipp’s glove and again off the mound, giving the ball backspin as it approached Correa. That extra spin was just enough for the ball to bounce over his glove and into center field, plating the game’s tying run. Kansas City would add another run that inning to take the lead and then Eric Hosmer belted a two-run shot to right center to give the Royals a 9-6 lead, and later, the victory. Johnny Cueto dominated in game five, and just like that the Astros’ season was over.
The Astros have been praised by prospect experts for cultivating one of the top minor league systems in the game. Having the number one overall pick three years in a row can do this, and General Manager Jeff Lunhow deserves a lot of credit for having patience with his plan in player development. This is a team that improved a remarkable 35 games from just two seasons ago. Correa has been praised for his off the charts makeup for a player of his age and he did not make any excuses for missing that ball in game four. He, and the Astros, have an extremely bright future ahead of them. They will have plenty more opportunities to make deep runs in the postseason.
Most people, including myself, felt that they were still a year away from being legit contenders. But as we have seen this season, young players are making immediate impacts and helping their teams play well into October. Houston has done a great job at developing players like Correa, as well as multiple time All-Star Jose Altuve, which should be the best middle infield in baseball for a long time. They have also developed 2015 Cy Young Award frontrunner Dallas Keuchel, along with George Springer, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jason Castro. They surrounded their core with veteran additions such as All-Star Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena. They solidified their bullpen by importing Tony Sipp, Pat Neshek, and Luke Gregerson. They have more help on the way in 2013 number one overall pick Mark Appel, former Golden Spikes Award winner and 2015 minor league home run leader A.J. Reed, early 2015 picks in Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron, and Riley Ferrell as well as guys like Derek Fisher, Tony Kemp and Colin Moran who should all be ready to contribute sooner rather than later.
The Astros had an excellent 2015 season and they should be proud for what they accomplished. A.J. Hinch did a fantastic job in his first year as a manager and they are only going to get better from here with their young players gaining experience as well as more help on the horizon. As a Royals’ fan, I thank them for an excellent series and had they won the series, I’d be rooting for them in the ALCS. There are a lot of similarities between the two teams and I understand the rebuilding process that they endured for the past few seasons. It is not easy, but it is worth it at the end of the day. They are an excellent organization and I wish them nothing but the best moving forward.