It seems like only yesterday (okay, three months ago) when we celebrated baseball's opening day. It was a truncated season impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but in the end, Major League Baseball did a decent job of keeping players safe and healthy.
To add some excitement to the 60-game schedule, MLB also expanded postseason eligibility so that eight teams in each league could play meaningful October contests. That benefitted the Astros more than any other team—while they underperformed in the regular season at 29-31, their second-place division finish got them into the dance ... where they nearly shocked the world.
Here are five things we'll remember about the 2020 'Stros:
1. They Nearly Did It
No Justin Verlander, no Yordan Alvarez, no Roberto Osuna, no Brad Peacock, no Chris Devenski, plus a slew of hobbled players, a new manager, a new general manager, and a pretty huge target on their backs. Still, the team that became baseball's top villain came within one win of a third American League pennant in four years and a trip to the World Series. They clawed their way into the postseason, swept the Twins in the wild card series, dominated the Athletics in the division series, and took the Tampa Bay Rays to the brink with an incredible comeback after being down three games to none.
They nearly did it, and we couldn't be more proud.
2. Summer of George
If the shortened season and postseason were the end of George Springer's time with the Astros (he's a free agent this winter), then he bowed out in perfect form. Springer was the 'Stros' top offensive player with a team-leading 14 home runs and a .359 on-base percentage, which is pretty dang good and nearly led the club. He was outstanding in the ALDS against Oakland, breaking out with two homers in game two, and he clubbed another couple clutch homers in the ALCS. Hopefully it isn't goodbye, but if it is ... thanks for all the Springer Dingers.
3. The Tucker Breakout?
Getting his first elongated playing time as a starter at age 23, outfielder Kyle Tucker cashed in with a pretty good 2020 campaign. He was an extra-base-hit machine with 12 doubles, a league-leading six triples, and nine home runs, leading the team in runs batted in (42). With some changes possibly coming to the team's offense (and pretty darn likely in the outfield), Tucker is primed to get a bigger role going forward. It may very well be fun watching him settle into that role.
4. Youth Prevails
Tucker wasn't the only young player to show flashes of a fine future. On the mound, the Astros were forced into giving the untested Christian Javier and the maybe-ready-for-prime-time Framber Valdez long looks in the starting rotation. They seemed to work out pretty well, with the former striking out 54 while walking 18 in collecting a 3.48 ERA, and the latter at times looking like an ace, making 10 starts and striking out 76 to 16 walks with a 3.57 ERA (and then turning in clutch performances in the playoffs). While it's uncertain what the heck the pitching staff will look like in 2021, there's at least hope that the 'Stros still have plenty of good young arms to plug in.
5. They're Still Very Houston
This is a weird time in Houston sports. The Texans are in a pretty bad place, the kind where fans might rather just demand they tank for better draft pick position. However, they don't even have a first (or second) round pick next year. As for the Rockets, who the heck knows what's going to happen now that Daryl Morey is gone and rumors fly about the futures of stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Dynamo are on the outside looking in. The Roughnecks could've won the XFL championship but, sigh ...
The Astros, on the other hand, looked pretty dead in the water but snuck into the playoffs and nearly shocked the world. Naturally they played the "everyone hates us" card because ... well ... everyone does. In the aftermath of a cheating scandal, the team still nearly won the pennant. Despite all the major injuries and changes at the top of the front office, the team still nearly won the pennant. Just like H-Town, they overcame some pretty difficult odds to prove that heart and talent go a long way.