The Mariners are not in the postseason, but several other teams are, and having a rooting interest is a good way to stay involved with baseball before we are forced to endure four long, MLB-less months. There is no reason we shouldn’t get a little taste of that postseason glory just because we are Mariners fans, so over the coming weeks, we will be inviting a writer from each playoff-bound team to make their most compelling case for the postseason hearts and minds of Mariners fans. So far, we’ve heard about the Diamondbacks from AZ Snakepit writer Charlie Gebow; the Twins from Brandon Warne, who writes about Minnesota sports for the Athletic; the Cubs, from BP’s Zack Moser; the Nationals, from the staff at Federal Baseball; the Yankees, from Bradford Davis; the Rockies, from Connor from Purple Row; and the Red Sox, from Mary Craig. If you’ve been reading this series, you know that I have struggled to fill two vacancies: Cleveland, and the Astros. This is odd because both these teams are very, very good and there is a strong possibility they will meet in the ALCS, and yet I know very few people on Twitter who are fans of either of these teams. Luckily, Tim (@imsorrydave) put me in contact with a buddy of his, who goes by @TexanAlex on Twitter. Thanks Tim! Thanks Alex!
1. The short pitch: in a tweet, limerick, haiku, or other short form, tell us why we should bandwagon your team.
And now two Cy Young pitchers
You would “Woo!” as well.
2. The longer pitch: Expand on the most compelling reasons to root for your team.
Mariners fans should bandwagon the Astros because we are the most Mariner team left in the playoffs. We’re both fan bases in love with our perpetually disappointing baseball team who need that one magical season to die happy. It’s you, us, the Padres, the Nationals, the Brewers, the Rockies, the Rays, and the Rangers. None of us want to be in this club, but listen, we’ve been in it since 1962. We have tenure. Unlike the other members of the club in the playoffs, we actually paid attention to baseball before the Clinton administration and never broke Youppi!’s heart. Our first generation of fans are still around. They can tell you stories of baking in a hastily-constructed skillet of a ballpark, fending off mosquitos the size of poodles while the steel skeleton of our beloved Astrodome was rising from the prairie. Time is running out for that first generation of die-hards, who have suffered through everything from the Joe Morgan trade, to Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS, to Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, and worse. We would want this for you, if our roles were reversed. We would not want this for the Rangers, but y’all are cool and your garlic fries are delicious.
3. Help us fake it: What's a cool stat we can casually drop to make it seem like we've been following this team all along?
It seems that the wider baseball punditry has this image of the Astros as a high-homerun, high-strikeout, free-swinging ballclub. Perhaps they should be forgiven for this assumption, seeing as the Astros struck out the most of any MLB team every year from 2012 to 2015. (Love you, Valbuena!) But in the Year of the Homerun & Strikeout, the Astros managed to hit the second-most homeruns (238 to the Yankees’ 241), while also striking out the least. The Astros only struck out 1,087 times. Check it out. No other team in MLB struck out less than 1,100 times. Cleveland is in second, with 1,153. Do you like to see a bat hit a thrown baseball? The Astros are your team.
4. Our new favorite player: Which under-the-radar player has a particularly cool backstory, social media presence, or is just generally awesome and worthy of our love and admiration?
The Mariners are more familiar with the Astros than the other teams in the playoffs because we see each other so often. Heck, the Mariners basically precipitated use of the "Woo.” So I’m not going to spend my time telling you how great Marwin Gonzales is. It’s not going to surprise you that George Springer is prone to showing up to the ballpark in a T-Rex costume. Did you know that Jose Altuve was told not to come back to his MLB tryout in Venezuela because he was too short? Of course you do.
So that’s why I’m going to talk about Yuli Gurriel. He’s a 33-year-old rookie with fabulous pineapple hair who is often overlooked, even by his own fanbase. Yuli was the best player in Cuba for years. He finally got the opportunity to make his major league debut last year, and struggled, admitting that he wasn’t used to the quality of sliders that he saw in the MLB. But he’s started to adjust, and Astros fans are starting to see what made him a legend on the island. After a slow start to the season, Yuli slashed .304/.333/.565 in July and was the first rookie not named Aaron Judge to win AL Rookie of the Month honors. The knock on Yuli at that point in the season was that he really didn’t draw walks. He drew one walk in 97 plate appearances in the month of June. He’s been more patient down the stretch. After drawing only nine walks from April to July, he drew seven in August and six in the last month of the season. Not anything crazy, but it’s fun to watch what is essentially a veteran baseball player evolving and improving. But what really makes him a player to watch during the playoffs is this fact: Yuli is clutch. With two outs and RISP, he is slashing .318/.348/.530. In Late & Close situations, he is batting .319/.528/.865. You can bet that Yuli will come up with some crucial hits in key situations during the Astros’ post-season run.
But aside from how much fun he is to watch at the plate, consider this man, who spent 14 years prevented by politics from pursuing his sport at the highest level. During those years, perhaps the prime of his career, he watched as lesser players defected, made life-changing amounts of money and became stars. How many times over those 14 years must he have craved for the chance to prove that he, too, belonged with them? Maybe his best years are behind him, but he has finally has his chance.
Also, it will be really cool to see Carlos Beltran return to the postseason as an Astro thirteen years after his incredible 2004 turn with the team. That was over two years before the first iPhone. Beltran made his MLB debut in September of 1998, when “There’s Something About Mary” and “Saving Private Ryan” were both still in theaters. Carlos Beltran for Cooperstown. Maybe Tío Carlos has a little magic left. It would be great to see Verlander finally get his ring, but don’t forget Beltran.
5. Mariners fans love an underdog. What's your team's underdog quotient?
I would have been hard-pressed to sell a team that won its division by 21 games and posted 101 total wins as an underdog. Then August 26, 2017 happened, and it reminded me that my hometown is always going to be an underdog city, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I suppose I could’ve discussed Harvey in the “most compelling reason to root for your team” section, but that would be a pity root. This baseball team, this city, doesn’t need pity because it doesn’t pity itself. I won’t offer a Harvey retrospective, but here’s a good one. The bottom line is that Houston had seen some stuff in the past. I still lived in Houston during Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Allison, and those were massive events that took months and months to recover from. Flash floods and storm systems are part of the rhythm of life down there. But Houston had never seen anything like Harvey. Nearly 40 inches of rain. 30 percent of Harris County underwater. If I know Houston, it’s going to dig itself out, tear out drywall in the morning, and get to Minute Maid Park by first pitch and make that ballpark into a bandbox. Houstonians scratched the fourth-largest city in the country out of swampland and you know what, they’ve built a beautiful community in spite of it.
And then there’s Maria, which devastated the home island of Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran, who, by the way, donated $1 million to Maria relief. Astros owner Jim Crane sent three planes to Puerto Rico, two planes full of supplies and another to evacuate players’ families and cancer patients. Wouldn’t it be great to see Correa and Beltran take the Commissioner’s Trophy back to the island? Oh and of course, Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzales have turned in their best seasons of their careers despite unimaginable human suffering in their home country of Venezuela due to economic and political turmoil.
So I guess when it comes down to it, I can’t say that the Houston Astros themselves are an underdog team. But when they take the field on Thursday against the Red Sox, they will be playing for a whole lot of underdogs who could use something to smile about.
6. The happiness quotient: What are the chances your team can go all the way?
I would feel a lot better about their chances if Lance McCullers was 100 percent, but Lance has had trouble bouncing back from a stint on the DL. Maybe he’ll be a natural working out of the bullpen, but he just hasn’t been the same pitcher that he was before the All-Star break. With a healthy McCullers, the Astros would probably boast the best Games 1, 2, and 3 starters of any playoff team. Also, Josh Reddick, who is a key part of Houston’s offense, is bouncing back from a hamstring issue at the start of the postseason. A World Series berth is by no means a lock.
But with a rotation led by Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, and perhaps the best hitting lineup top-to-bottom in the playoffs, the Astros have a good chance of winning their second pennant in team history.
I’m going to wrap this up with an elevator pitch for Jose Altuve over Judge for AL MVP. I really can’t begrudge a vote for Judge, but I will point out that baseball writers were prepared to pencil in Kyle Schwarber for the Hall of Fame after his heroics in the 2015 and 2016 postseasons. Playing in his first full season this year, Schwarber struggled in part because teams had more film on him and forced him to adjust. Judge’s numbers have been insane, but can he repeat his 2017 season after an off-season of other teams picking apart his swing and crunching the numbers? Maybe he can, but Jose Altuve has put up MVP-caliber numbers for four straight seasons, ever since he made the jump in 2014 and broke Craig Biggio’s record for hits in a single season. In a revealing interview last week, Altuve mentioned how hard this season has been for him because other teams know his vulnerabilities. Not that it mattered: he still had his best season at the plate. So when weighing the numbers of Altuve vs. Judge, put your thumb on the scale for Jose.
Go ‘Stros and #ShootIt.
Ed. note: if you enjoyed this content and would like to help out Harvey victims via an avenue involving baseball, Alex asks you to consider a donation to Lima Time Time’s Bozoathon podcast. The Bozoathon was a 24-hour live podcast which you can find here. They currently stand at $8,535 raised of their initial 10K goal, and all aid will be distributed locally in Houston by Houstonians, so if you wanted to donate but didn’t want to go through the Red Cross, this might be a good avenue for you.