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Sports Strength

Here’s Why You Should Root for The Houston Astros (Yes, the Astros)

The Houston Astros will forever be a part of Major League Baseball purgatory after cheating during the 2017 season.

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LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: The Houston Astros celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in game seven to win the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven game series that year, but were slated by the baseball world for the means in which they did so.

Here’s what you need to know about this saga – this ugly, ugly, saga.

Last year, MLB investigators revealed that at the beginning of the 2017 season, the Astros used their video replay review room, an electronic system that every team has, to decode signs that opposing catchers would show their pitchers during at-bats.

Using their center-field camera feed, they were able to identify the meaning behind each sign, for example, one finger down by the catcher would indicate that a fastball is coming a batter, or two fingers down means that a slider is.

This information would get relayed to the Astros dugout during an at-bat, and by way of Houston personnel banging on trash cans, Astros batters would know what pitchers were coming so they could capitalize.

Even though sign-stealing has been part of baseball for years, the use of electronic systems to do so isn’t allowed. There was even a rumor that Jose Altuve was wearing a buzzer on his chest during his walk-off home-run against the Yankees in the 2019 ALCS, but that was never confirmed to be 100% true.

Nonetheless, the trash-banging was proven to be true. That’s why the Astros fired manager A.J Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and why the MLB took away several of Houston’s draft picks, along with fining the team $5 million dollars.

The aftermath response around the league was one accord, fuck the Astros. The Cincinnati Reds wore creative t-shirts that read “Trash-town”, an on-the-nose play on words with the Astros nickname “H-Town” and their goofy trash-banging routine for getting leverage.

Fans got their boos in once allowed back into the stadiums, and their 2017 World Championship will have an asterisk next to it forever.

With this being said, as a die-hard Yankees fan, what I’m about to say will upset many people that I hold dear to my heart.

I want the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2021.

Now, does the mere sight of Carlos Correa give me nausea? Yes. Could I count off my fingers the number of times that I’ve wished ill upon Jose Altuve? Yes. Have the Astros joined the Boston Red Sox in the exclusive club for teams Yankee fans hate the most? Hell yeah.

But guess what? The Yankees don’t matter right now. They’re watching the ALDS like I am, on the couch. I don’t have a second baseball team, and never will. So the Yankees absence from the postseason will always mean one of two things for me. I either will not watch the games, or I will watch as a baseball fan.

Now, whether it is my short attention span for watching Netflix, or my unwillingness to simply fall asleep at a reasonable time, I’ve found myself consistently tuning into the MLB postseason. By law, this puts me in baseball fan mode with the Yankees eliminated.

What are a few necessities for the neutral, unbiased sports fan in America? Drama and storylines. When you think of the choice words that the likes of a Carlos Correa might have for a salty baseball world that just saw his team win a World Series fair and square – that’s drama.

An outside view of the repercussions of outrage from Dodger fans for the next 5 months of the offseason, with the sentiment, “We scolded them for cheating and then practically let the same group of players beat us 4 years later …” Ouch, one helluva a story.

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Here’s an analogy. The Dark Knight makes for such a great film in large part thanks to the aura and demeanor of the Joker. Even as the antagonist, the Joker is the most dynamic character in the movie, standing for evil and not being sorry about it.

Case in point, they cheated, became the villain, and did little to sell themselves as better than what the world made them out to be.

Get this though. After 2017, with the villain status pinned to their chest, the Astros won 100+ games in two of the next three seasons; reaching two American League Championship Series and one Fall Classic, but never winning the World Series itself. Nonetheless, they’ve proved that they can be a great team without cheating.

What would the Dark Knight be without the Joker? Just another movie? Maybe. What I know is that Major League Baseball’s postseason would be far less interesting if the Astros can’t overcome the 2-1 deficit they face in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

So go ahead Houston – win the Fall Classic. Upset the established order, and turn everything into chaos.

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Sports Strength

Starting Pitchers Are The Coolest Closers

During their deciding Game Five victory over the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers put baseball conventional wisdom on shuffle. While the “opener” strategy has become commonplace, the Dodgers deployed their pitching staff with even more funkiness. 

Two relievers (Corey Knebel and Brusdar Graterol) handled the first two innings; a 20-game winner and Cy Young candidate was converted into an overqualified long reliever (Julio Urias pitched the next four); the Dodgers’ putative set-up man and closer were burned in the seventh and eight innings and Max Scherzer, the second-best and first-craziest starting pitcher of this generation, earned his first career save by slamming the door on the Giants in an electric ninth inning. Over the course of their white-knuckled 2-1 triumph over their blood rival, the Dodgers trotted out six different pitchers, none of whom were used in their usual role.

This is not to endorse bullpen games, which are cowardly displays where a parade of interchangeably robotic hard-throwers are used in lieu of a single righteous starting pitcher. Instead, this is to say that watching a starting pitcher come out from the bullpen during the late innings of a tight playoff game is one of the most uniquely exciting things in baseball. This is the baseball version of skipping fifth-period algebra or having breakfast for dinner; the game’s tenor and tone shifts because of this minor, thrilling illicitness. 

More, bringing in an ace as a closer signals that this is no longer a game; it’s A Moment. Think: Clayton Kershaw closing out the Game Seven of the 2018 NLCS on two days rest to push the Dodgers to the World Series, or Randy Johnson taking the mound in the ninth and tenth innings of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series the day after starting Game Six, or Madison Bumgarner single-handedly winning the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants. By bringing a starter out of the ‘pen, managers break the calm veneer that they outwardly present—damn the torpedoes, they say, we have to win this game. On an intellectual meta level, it validates the inherently silly experience of caring about sports, showing that the raw-nerve desperation and urgency of the postseason is felt by fans and players and coaches alike. On a simpler one, it’s just very cool. 

So, to Alex Cora and Dusty Baker and Brian Snitker and Dave Roberts, I have but one humble request: let your starting pitchers close games.