Have you been to Minute Maid Park this season? With the ballpark open once again to max capacity, allowing for up to 41,000 fans, we can once again eat those Cracker Jacks—or queso-topped kolaches—belt the lyrics to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas,'' and hope to heck the Astros win their second world championship in 2021.
If you're heading back to the park for the first time this year, know that there's a lot going on with the ‘Stros this season (38-28, second place, AL West). So, with just a little fewer than 100 games to go, let’s break down what we’ve seen so far.
Baseball fans have not forgotten.
Let’s get it out of the way.
Yup, people still remember that the Astros used a method of banging trash cans and recording pitches to gain a competitive edge during the 2017 season.
Because of the pandemic, we didn’t hear those rival fans booing the Astros on the road last year. This year? Yes. On opening-day weekend in Oakland—where whistle-blower Mike Fiers plays—fans let out their anger on the ‘Stros.
Since, opposing fans have mocked them by banging on cans and just being crotchety. They’ve become the most hated team in baseball—and, arguably, one of the most hated teams across all sports. Any hope that the Astros had of this PR nightmare blowing over has vanished this season.
The Astros thrive off of their home crowd.
Ugly controversy aside, we’ve come back to the Juice Box as loud as ever. Fans in the Crawford Boxes still scramble for home run balls, spectators still cheer as Astros pitchers strike out the opposition, and when the ‘Stros win, the place still shakes with excitement.
The Astros seem to thrive off of this unconditional support from their home crowd. They’ve posted a 21-13 home record (the second-best home winning percentage in the American League), and five of their home wins have been decided by two runs or less, so maybe those home fans have allowed them to get that extra edge.
Why does this matter? Well, if the Astros want a good shot at coming home with some hardware in October, they’re going to need all the (legal) help they can get. Home-field advantage is going to be key. Securing the AL West will ensure that they have home-field advantage in at least the division series. With the way that they have been winning at home, more games at Minute Maid would sure be nice.
The new-look Astros are looking good.
While we miss the star power of departed players like Gerrit Cole and George Springer, along with the injured Justin Verlander (get well soon), younger talent has met the challenge. Though the team is still anchored by Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and José Altuve, 24-year-old Kyle Tucker and soon-to-be-24-year-old Yordan Álvarez have emerged as powerful sluggers. Framber Valdez, 27, and José Urquidy, 26, get the job done on the bump. And a mix of veterans and relative newbies are piecing it together in the bullpen.
An influx of youth could be what the Astros need to rise back to the top. The ‘Stros currently lead the league in batting average, hits, and runs batted in, and pitching numbers have improved since the May 28 return of Valdez.
This is a fun team to watch, and we’re so glad we get to watch ‘em live again.