The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Are the Astros the latest "dynasty" team?

The Houston Astros won only 51 games in 2013, finishing last in the AL West Division. In the two seasons before that, the team won only 55 and 56 games, while in the NL Central Division. They rightfully acquired the label L’Astros. But now, after four World Series appearances in the last six seasons that includes two world championships, the Astros’ impressive run has raised legitimate questions about being regarded as the latest dynasty team in the majors.

Before I delve further into that question, let’s review some Astros history.

The team sunk to low division standings in the early 2010s when ownership decided to overhaul the team, following a long period of mediocrity after their first World Series appearance in 2005. Key players like Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence had retired or were traded.

The team took a long-term view for rebuilding the roster. Their front office acknowledged they would struggle for several years while building up its minor-league system, in order to be competitive again.

The Astros finally shed its identify as “losers”in 2015, when they finished second in the division and made their first postseason appearance since 2005. Actually, the team had surpassed its own expectations for when they would become a contender again. Youngsters like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers Jr. began to emerge as leading players.

The Astros’ plan reached fulfillment in 2017 when they improved by 17 wins over the previous season and went on to capture the World Series. Newcomers Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel broke into the starting lineup, while veteran pitchers Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove, and Mike Fiers, acquired through trades and free agency, shored up the starting rotation.

The Astros loaded up with free-agent gunslingers Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke in the starting rotation, but lost the World Series in 2019 to Washington and 2021 to Atlanta before reclaiming the championship last year.

The Astros’ good fortunes, beginning in 2017 and beyond, can be largely attributed to Jeff Luhnow who joined the Astros as general manager at the beginning of the 2012 season. He focused on domestic amateur scouting and international scouting to re-stock the minor-league system.

Baseball America magazine’s ranking of the Astros’ organizational talent saw a dramatic turnaround from 26th (out of 30 MLB teams) in 2011 and 29th in 2012, to 4th in 2017, 11th in 2018, and 5th in 2019.

The 2022 team was the manifestation of the organization’s successful scouting and player development activities. Seven of the Astros’ starters (position players) came up through their system, the latest being Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena. While McCullers had emerged through the amateur draft, five of their other key pitchers were the result of international player signings.

Now, back to the discussion about an Astros dynasty.

The dynasty label usually refers to teams that win multiple, often consecutive, World Series within a relatively close timeframe. The New York Yankees franchise is most often referred to as the standard for dynasties. Over its legendary history, the Yankees had several dynasty periods (1921-1928, 1936-1942 and 1947-1964, 1976-1981, and 1996-2003). The Philadelphia A’s (1910-1914 and 1929-1931), St, Louis Cardinals (1926-1934 and 1942-1946), Oakland A’s (1972-1974), and Cincinnati Reds (1970-1976) are examples of other noteworthy dynasties.

The Astros have been one of the most dominant teams during the last six seasons, winning their division five times. They won more than 100 games in four of those six seasons, which is an understated feat these days. An argument can be made that the AL West Division has been one of the weakest in all of baseball. Yet the Astros managed to win the AL pennant in four of those seasons.

One of the keys to their success has been a core group of players who have contributed throughout the Astros’ run. Verlander, the 2022 AL Cy Young Award winner, opted to sign with the Yankees in the offseason, but the rest of their key players have stayed intact for 2023. Two off-season transactions will strengthen their offense this year: Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu was acquired in the free market by the Astros, and outfielder Michael Brantley (a .300+ hitter) was re-signed after spending most of 2022 on the Injured List.

Another World Series ring in 2023 would definitely put the Astros in the dynasty conversation. But the odds are against them accomplishing that. The Yankees were the last team to win back-to-back World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Another factor that could affect future opportunities for the Astros extending their dynastic ways involves the strength of the Astros’ farm system. Luhnow left the Astros after the 2019 season because the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal occurred under his watch as general manager. Since his departure, the Astros’ strength of organization has declined to 27th in 2020, 26th in 2021, and 26th in 2022.

It's not likely Houston will return to its L’Astros days any time soon, but are they a dynasty team? The Sporting News rates them the odds-on favorite right now to win the 2023 World Series. Perhaps we can re-visit this discussion in November.

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