Posted on September 22, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
With three home runs from one of their star players, the Houston Astros made it three years in a row with a division crown. Behind a three-home run performance from Georgia Springer, the Astros notched win no. 102 of the season on Sunday, knocking off the Angels 13-5. With the win, Houston officially clinched the AL West division title, doing so for the third year in a row and setting the Astros up for another deep run in October.
“You can’t ever take the first goal for granted,” said ace Justin Verlander, who started Sunday’s game. “I know everybody says we’re going to win the World Series, but you can’t do that without this first. So, step one complete. Now we have the divisional round coming up and we’ll … prepare for that and try to win 11 games.”
Once again, there’s been little doubt that the Astros are the best team in the AL West. Even with the Oakland A’s winning 94 games and counting, Houston has held a comfortable lead atop the division for most of the season. They’ve survived a few injuries and made a few additions along the way, rarely if ever looking vulnerable at the top of the AL West standings.
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On paper, the Astros look just as good, if not better than they did when they won the World Series in 2017. Verlander and Gerrit Cole are as good of a 1-2 punch as any rotation has. Plus, with Zack Greinke and Wade Miley, Houston might have the deepest rotation in baseball. Offensively, the Astros are as dangerous as ever, especially with the signing of Michael Brantley during the winter and the emergence of rookie Yordan Alvarez.
However, the biggest difference is that Houston’s bullpen is no longer a liability the way it was two years ago. In fact, the Astros can go toe-to-toe with almost any bullpen in baseball. The Houston bullpen is now a reason why many favor them to win the World Series rather than something that could hold them back. More importantly, last year’s loss in the ALCS has allowed the Astros to forget their 2017 triumph and focus on winning this year’s World Series.
“I don’t ever want to disrespect the things we’ve already accomplished, but when you’re in the moment everything feels like it’s the best of all time,” manager A.J. Hinch said during Sunday’s postgame celebration. “We’ve done a lot of good things around here over the last five years that I’ve been here. Every accomplishment seems to be building and building to being better. I like hanging flags: flags for divisions matter, flags for the World Series matter, and I want our guys to appreciate that.”
Of course, Houston’s work in the regular season isn’t over yet. They are currently tied with the Yankees in the win column, so home-field advantage in the American League playoffs is yet to be decided. Given the competitive 7-game series the Astros played with the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS, having home-field advantage could prove decisive. The chase for the top seed in the American League should keep the Astros motivated during their final six games of the season.
Whether they earn home-field throughout the playoffs or not, the Astros will enter the postseason as the top betting favorite to win the 2019 World Series. Being the favorite won’t necessarily help them between the lines when the calendar flips to October. However, there is no denying that the Astros have all of the pieces needed to win a championship. It’s a safe bet that Sunday’s champaign celebration won’t be Houston’s last in 2019.