Houston Astros

José Altuve is the first since Buster Posey to do this in a season

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AP

José Altuve is the first since Buster Posey to do this in a season

The Astros and Giants had seemingly opposite seasons in 2017. While the Astros won their first World Series title in franchise history, the Giants put together a historically bad season with a 64-98 record. 

Of all the Astros, José Altuve enjoyed the greatest season of them all. And one Giant can relate to the 5-foot-6 slugger. 

Altuve became just the eighth player in Major League Baseball history to win a batting title, MVP and World Series all in the same year. The last to do so was Buster Posey in 2012, the second of his three titles with the Giants.

In 2012, Posey hit .336 to win the batting title. He then received 422 voting points to edge out Ryan Braun (285) to win the National League MVP. 

Altuve hit 10 points higher than Posey at .346 to win the 2017 batting title. But, Altuve received less voting points (405) than Posey to beat rookie Aaron Judge (279). 

With Alonzo Powell hire, Giants aren't going away from their roots

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AP

With Alonzo Powell hire, Giants aren't going away from their roots

SAN FRANCISCO — When Giants officials met the media two days after the end of a 98-loss season, they did not indicate that adding power is at the top of the priority list. A month of watching teams slug their way through playoff games didn’t change that feeling, even with a former Astro joining the staff. 

During a conference call a few minutes after he was officially announced as the organization’s new hitting coach, Alonzo Powell said his focus isn’t just on bringing the Giants into the power era. 

“You’ve also got the understand the ballpark,” Powell said. “You’re not just going to turn around and hit home runs, everybody. The biggest thing is we have to find hits, we have to find walks, we have to find ways to get on base and keep the chain moving to the next guy. You have to understand the league and the NL West is one of the hardest places to hit in baseball. We have to do the little things to compete, to get on base and get runners over and get the runner in. Those are the things we have to be efficient in if we’re going to succeed the way we want to succeed.”

That’s the way the Giants have won in the past, in large part because they play in a park that stifles power and discourages free agent sluggers from coming here. So, if you were holding out for J.D. Martinez, you shouldn’t hold your breath. And if you’re on Stanton Watch, well, that has never sounded particularly likely either. The Giants will be in on any chase, but after weeks of meetings, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said the three focus areas are center field defense, third base, and upgrading the bullpen. Do any of those mesh with Giancarlo Stanton? Nope. 

Powell would surely love to start his time in San Francisco by working with an imported slugger, but in his introductory remarks, he said the focus is on challenging the current core and embracing the tough competition of the NL West.

A San Francisco native who grew up watching Willie Mays, Powell was a late addition to the staff. He was on an initial list of candidates given to general manager Bobby Evans by outgoing hitting coach Hensley Meulens, but the Giants had to wait for an interview because the Astros were quite busy throughout October. Between the second and third games of the World Series, Powell flew to San Francisco to meet with management and Bruce Bochy. 

Bochy seemed to like what he heard, and he noted that Powell played a role in developing a star-studded Astros lineup. When Bochy talked about Powell’s work, however, it wasn’t the homers that came to mind. It was another stat. 

“They cut back their strikeouts and they were able to play small ball (when needed) and keep the line moving,” he said. 

The Astros were second in the majors with 238 homers, 110 more than the Giants, but they weren’t just swinging from the heels. They ranked dead last in the majors with 1,087 strikeouts, a huge improvement over 1,482 in 2016. The Giants, known in the past for keeping rallies moving, struck out 1,204 times after just 1,107 in 2016. 

“You have to adapt to your club and the club that you have, and I don’t know if it’s a club that’s going to hit more home runs,” Bochy said of the 2018 Giants. “If you’re a club like we are then we have to do the little things and cut back on the strikeouts and move runners.

“You can’t be who you’re not. You try to improve in all areas, but you you’ve got to be who you are.”

Dodgers' World Series drought extended, Astros win first in franchise history

Dodgers' World Series drought extended, Astros win first in franchise history

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — From laughingstock to lift off.

George Springer and the Houston Astros rocketed to the top of the baseball galaxy Wednesday night, winning the first World Series championship in franchise history by romping past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7.

Playing for a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and wearing an H Strong logo on their jerseys, the Astros brought home the prize that had eluded them since they started out in 1962 as the Colt .45s.

For a Series that was shaping up as an October classic, Game 7 quickly became a November clunker as Houston scored five runs in the first two innings off an ineffective Yu Darvish. Hardly the excitement fans felt during the Cubs' 10-inning thriller in Cleveland last fall.

Well, except for everyone wearing bright orange.

Jose Altuve, one of four carry-overs from a club that lost an embarrassing 111 times in 2013 after switching from the NL to the AL, and this collection of young stars silenced Dodger Stadium from the get-go. Charlie Morton finished up with four stellar innings of relief for the win.

Springer led off the evening with a double against Darvish, and soon it was 2-0.

Springer hit his fifth homer — tying the Series mark set by Reggie Jackson and matched by Chase Utley — when he connected for a record fourth game in a row, making it 5-0 in the second.

That was plenty for Astros manager A.J. Hinch. He pulled starter Lance McCullers Jr. soon after the curveballer crazily plunked his fourth batter of the game, and began a bullpen parade of four relievers that kept the lead.

Forever known for their space-age Astrodome, outlandish rainbow jerseys and a handful of heartbreaking playoff losses, these Astros will be remembered as champions, finally, in their 56th season.

The club that wears a star on its hat also filled out the Texas trophy case. Teams from the Lone Star State had won most every major crown — Super Bowl, NBA and NHL titles, championships in college football, and men's and women's hoops — except the World Series.

Built on the skills of homegrown All-Stars Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and more, and boosted by the slick trade for Justin Verlander, general manager Jeff Luhnow completed the ascent that some predicted.

Famously, now, there was the Sports Illustrated cover in 2014 — after Houston had lost more than 100 games for three straight years — that proclaimed: "Your 2017 World Series Champs" and featured a picture of Springer in a bright Astros jersey.

Houston won 101 times this year to take the AL West, then won Games 6 and 7 at home in the AL Championship Series. The Astros joined the 1985 Royals as the only clubs to win a pair of Game 7s in the same year.

For the Dodgers, the quest to win a Series for the first time since 1988 fell short. They led the majors with 104 wins and a $240 million payroll, yet it didn't pay off for part-owner Magic Johnson or manager Dave Roberts.

Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw provided four shutout innings of relief for Los Angeles, but it was too late. What the Dodgers really needed was a better starter than Darvish, someone more like the lefty who tossed out a ceremonial first ball: the great Sandy Koufax.

After Springer lined a leadoff double, Alex Bregman hit a bouncer that first baseman Cody Bellinger threw past Darvish for an error, allowing a run to score. Bregman aggressively stole third and scored on Altuve's grounder, and it was 2-0 after eight pitches.

A double by Marwin Gonzalez helped set up perhaps McCullers' biggest contribution, a slow grounder for his first pro RBI. Springer followed with a no-doubt, two-run drive into the left-center field bleachers.

That was the Series-most 25th homer in a Major League Baseball season that set a record for home runs. It was easily enough for the Astros to offset pinch-hitter Andre Ethier's RBI single in the Los Angeles sixth.

Only once have the Dodgers clinched a crown at home, that coming in 1963 when Koufax outpitched Yankees star Whitey Ford to finish a sweep. They've never won Game 7 of the Fall Classic at their own park, dating more than a century ago to their days on the streets of Brooklyn as the Trolley Dodgers.

As pockets of Houston fans got louder and louder in the later innings, the crowd at Dodger Stadium was left to repeat the sad, but hopeful cry that used to echo in Brooklyn: Wait till next year.

Just 106 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.