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These days, it's the Astros pitching staff that holds the whole world in its hands.

Image: Marco Torres

GAME 117 ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON at Globe Life Park was different from games 112 through 116 in several respects, most notably that the Astros did not lose it. But there were other reasons to cheer the series finale against the Rangers besides Altuve’s homer, Gurriel’s double and Beltran’s single, which together produced just two runs, which was perfectly fine as the Rangers scored just one. The better news was that Dallas Keuchel, whose left arm has thrown the entire city into panic of late, offered a reasonable impression of the Keuchel of old, turning in six-plus innings of strong work. As the hot afternoon wore on, you could feel the Rangers wishing they’d gotten to him two starts ago—when Keuchel was most definitely not Keuchel—and hear ’Stros fans hoping/praying that their star pitcher’s turnaround might spark an about-face for the entire team. But the best news out of Arlington came courtesy the Astros bullpen, which shed its Achilles heel status, however momentarily. Ken Giles pitched two superlative innings in relief, sewing up the win for Keuchel with a dramatic strikeout of Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields. Equally dramatic was the announcement last evening that the ’Stros had acquired relief pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Chicago White Sox (for cash or a player to be named later), dramatic in part because Clippard himself broke the news when he updated his Twitter bio ahead of the formal announcement. After a shaky start with the Yankees, who traded him to the White Sox just last month, Clippard has since pitched impressively, posting a 1.80 ERA. In short, like Keuchel, he has lately been giving a reasonable impression of the Clippard of old—the stellar, All-Star, seven-solid-seasons-with-the-Nationals Clippard.

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We don't want the Yankees Clippard, or the White Sox one. We want the Tyler Clippard who threw 7 great seasons for the Washington Nationals.

DEPT. OF OPTIMISM… Let the record show that we do not know David Adler. We are not friends with him, have never met him, and indeed never even knew the name until a few days ago. Nevertheless, we have decided that he is the absolute best prognosticator in all of baseball, largely on the strength of an article published last week on MLB.com with his byline, an article called “Astros’ Slide Hardly Cause for Concern.”

Now, mind you, we do not believe that the ‘Stros are sliding. Not in the least. But if we did, Mr. Adler’s fine delineation of the past fortunes of teams like ours would no doubt provide much-needed solace. What Mr. Adler did was compare the 2017 Astros to other eventual World Series champions during the wild card era, noting that almost all of them experienced similar slumps on the road to eventual glory. Think the Astros’ recent 5-game losing streak was bad? The St. Louis Cardinals—World Series champs in 2006—lost 8 consecutive games during that season—twice. Four other champs, including the 2005 White Sox who, as you’ll recall, went on to vivisect the ‘Stros in four games in the Series, lost 7 in a row during the regular season.

The takeaway: at moments like these, it’s important to step back from the team’s day-to-day struggles and remind oneself that despite the present injury-fueled slump, Houston still boasts a 12-game lead in the American League West. The 2000 Yankees, as Adler reminds us, had only a 7½ game lead going into September, and that’s before they went on to lose 13 of their last 15 games (including the final 7 in a row). Yet they too were eventual World Series champs.

Those nattering nabobs of negativism online, vociferous as ever, will likely bristle at Mr. Adler’s report, especially as it poses a serious threat to their well-tended Disappointment Narrative. Others meanwhile, particularly the ‘Stros-or-die types, will protest that they’ve no need for a history wonk’s morale-boosting. Of course not. We don’t need it either. Not at all. That said, we will make a concerted effort to buy Mr. Adler a beer the next time he’s in town.  

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