As the 2017 MLB season comes to a close, all eyes are on the playoffs. The matchups are set and the excitement of who is going to advance in each round in prominent. The team that I am going to focus on is the Houston Astros. The Astros’ history in the playoffs is not a pretty story like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox but in order to understand the present, you have to dive into the past.
In total, the Astros have appeared in the playoffs 11 times in franchise history. The first appearance being in 1980 as National League West champions. Following the first franchise playoff birth, the Astros appeared again in 1981 and in 1986 as National League West champions, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2001 National League Central champions, received a Wild Card berth in 2004, 2005, and 2015.
1980 was a special year for Houston baseball fans. The Astros tied for 1st place in the National League West with the Los Angeles Dodgers and won the tiebreaker to win the division. The 1980 Astros were lead by pitcher Nolan Ryan, a bargain free agent pickup for the Astros. The roster was full of talented hitters including, but not limited to, José Cruz, Enos Cabell, and César Cedeño, who combined for a total of 219 RBI and 0.295 average. With the combined efforts of those three players and the rest of the team, the Astros ended the season with a 93-70 (after the tiebreaker) record. Unfortunately, the Astros lost 3 games to 2 games in the NLCS round to the Philadelphia Phillies, ending their first playoff berth.
One year later in 1981, the Astros returned again with another playoff appearance. The Astros returned without the help on Enos Cabell but still had their ace, Nolan Ryan who had a 1.69 ERA and recorded his 5th no hitter in the season. The Astros faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and lost 3 games to 2.
The Astros loses in the playoffs continue in 1986. With the fall of the Dodgers, the Astros were comfortably able to win the division by ten games, with the Cincinnati Reds following. The Astros faced the New York Mets in the NLDS. Game 6 was a “can’t miss” game for both teams. The game lasted 16 innings and both teams combined for more runs total than either of the previous individual games played in the series. The Mets were prosperous and eliminated the Astros hopes of advancing further into the playoffs scoring 7 runs to Houston’s 6.
The Astros experienced an 11 year drought in playoff appearances from 1986-1997. After the drought, the Astros appeared in 3 consecutive playoffs in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 1 more appearance in 2001. All of those appearances ended with a loss in the NLDS to the Braves in 1997, 1999, and 2001 and a loss to the Padres in 1998.
In 2004, the Astros gained a Wild Card berth and beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS 3 games to 2 but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS 4 games to 3, yet again ending any hopes of advancing to the World Series.
The 2005 season would be the most exciting overall season for Astros fans. The Astros gained a Wild Card berth. The Astros were seen as the underdogs throughout the entirety of the playoffs. To most people’s surprise, the Astros started winning and advancing farther than they ever had in franchise history. Led by Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Pitcher Roger Clemens, the Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 3 games to 1 in the NLDS and beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 2 in the NLCS. The win in the NLCS marked the first time in franchise history that the Houston Astros advanced into the World Series. Their first, and only, appearance in the World Series was a rough one. The Astros faced the high and mighty Chicago White Sox and were embarrassed throughout the series. The Astros were swept in the world series 4 games to nothing. The Astros would drive down and not see a playoff berth for 10 years.
In 2015, to everyone’s surprise, the Astros gained a Wild Card berth, the franchise’s first playoff appearance since their memorable 2005 season. This berth also marked the franchise’s first playoff appearance in the American League. The Astros faced the New York Yankees in the Wild Card game. Some thought as the Astros win against the Yankees as a Cinderella story but like all fairy tales, they must end. The Astros went on to face the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. Houston, led by Jose Altuve, battled Royals but inevitably lost 3 games to 2.
The past shapes a franchise in many ways. The Astros have been the underdogs for majority of the franchise’s existence. Despite having a very young 2017 roster, the Astros were able to secure a playoff berth and a pennant as American League West Division Champions. The past playoff appearances were a series of losses and inability to advance to the World Series, with the exception of 2005. Even the past seasons of losing seasons and absences from playoffs help shape the franchise moving forward. So how does the past shape the present? That’s a story for next time.