In June 2014, Sports Illustrated magazine made an audacious prediction. Pictured on the cover of the issue in question was 24-year-old rookie George Springer of the Houston Astros, the text beside him boldly proclaiming, “Your 2017 World Series Champs.”
At the time, the Astros were once again on the wrong side of .500, and their chief objective was to avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss season — the World Series was nowhere in sight. Needless to say, the outlook appeared bleak in Houston, and fans were beginning to grow impatient with the length of the organization’s rebuilding period.
Three years later, the future outlook of the Houston Astros could outshine that of any MLB club. The prophecy of the 2014 cover came true, and after 55 years of misfortune, the city of Houston finally has its first title.
Not only has the organization brought home a championship, it has also positioned itself for a stretch of prolonged success. Shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman are both just 23 years old, and Jose Altuve and George Springer are only 27 and 28, respectively. This young core combined for 21 WAR over the course of the 2017 regular season, and each contributed at key moments during the postseason as well.
George Springer thrived under the pressure of the Fall Classic, making history in postseason several categories en route to securing the 2017 World Series MVP. During the series against the Dodgers, Springer hit .379 with five home runs and became the first player in World Series history to homer in four straight World Series games. Springer also collected 29 total bases, breaking the shared record of 25 total bases previously held by Willie Stargell and Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.
The Dodgers and Astros played one of the most tightly contested World Series in recent history, as five of the seven games were decided by two runs or fewer. Win probabilities shifted at historically extreme rates throughout games two and five. The series itself was certainly one of extremes; take, for example, the disparity between the two hour and 28 minute length of Game 1 and the grueling Game 5 slugfest that lasted five hours and 17 minutes.
Game 7 was probably the only game of the series that did not induce heart palpitations for either fanbase, as the Astros jumped on Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish and never lost their lead. Darvish looked lost throughout his game seven start, and his breaking pitches were especially lackluster compared to the usually dynamic movement that he flashes.
The record for most combined home runs in a World Series was broken by the two teams in game five, which again raised questions about the efficacy of the current MLB baseballs. Some believe that a change in ball manufacturers has led to the league-wide increase in home runs.
Moreover, a number of Astros and Dodgers pitchers complained that the special ball used in the World Series was slicker than the MLB regular season ball, preventing pitchers from applying the usual spin to their breaking balls.
When approached about the “slick ball” conspiracy, Justin Verlander of the Astros stated: “The World Series ball is slicker. No doubt. I’m telling you, we’re in here signing [World Series] balls before the game, and it’s hard to get the ink on the ball sometimes.”
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will surely be treated to a bevy of questions regarding both the “juiced ball” and “slick ball” controversies during the offseason, as players are beginning to express their belief in the validity of both accusations.
Regardless of either controversy, this Fall Classic was something special, and the Astros are clearly built for the future. The energy and chemistry of their young group of players was palpable across October, and baseball has not produced a more likeable and exciting troop of players in years. After a trying year for the people of Houston, this wide-eyed group of young stars brought their city a trophy when it needed one most.