2020 Houston Astros
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2020 Houston Astros / Franchise: Houston Astros / BR Team Page
Managed by Dusty Baker
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2020 Houston Astros were coming off a second appearance in the World Series in three years, and had a juggernaut team including the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Justin Verlander and Rookie of the Year in Yordan Alvarez, so everything should have looked rosy. However, their off-season was probably the most tumultuous any team had seen since the start of the century, and probably for decades before. It started during the World Series, when they were forced to fire Assistant GM Brandon Taubman for remarks disparaging to women reporters, and then all hell broke loose a few weeks after their defeat at the hands of the Washington Nationals when former pitcher Mike Fiers told a journalist that the Astros had put together a sophisticated sign-stealing scheme during their championship 2017 season. Investigations quickly confirmed that his had been the case, and heads quickly rolled, including GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, who were both suspended by Major League Baseball and then immediately fired by owner Jim Crane. Two others, both now major league managers, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, were also fingered and were in turn fired, while the Astros were also punished by fines and loss of picks in the amateur draft.
To stem the crisis, the Astros hired an outsider, James Click to be their new GM and a figure universally respected around baseball, Dusty Baker as their manager. But there was a lot of talk that they had gotten off easy, as no player (except the since-retired Beltran), had been named, and fans were getting ready to boo them mercilessly on the road, something that would no doubt be an obstacle to overcome. On the field, they also lost a major piece when their co-ace starter, Gerrit Cole, signed a huge free agent contract with the New York Yankees, one of their main rivals for American League supremacy. This was not someone who could be easily replaced. But all of the other major contributors were coming back, and another of the stars of the 2017 championship, P Lance McCullers Jr., was back after missing 2019 to Tommy John surgery. The start of the season was of course delayed by over three months by the coronavirus pandemic and when it finally started on July 24th, it was without spectators - which at least took care of the being-booed-on-the-road problem. Verlander was his typical brilliant self in an Opening Day win over the Seattle Mariners and McCullers followed with a solid start the next day and the Astros were seemingly off to the races. However, on July 26th, they received some very bad news as Verlander was diagnosed with a forearm strain. Initial reports were that his season was over, although he intervened to say that for the moment he would only rest for a couple of weeks and then reassess the situation, but that turned out to be empty optimism on his part. Without their ace, the Astros' chances of returning to the World Series were seriously compromised, and they had also lost Alvarez to a season-ending injury after only a couple of games, leaving them with two gaping holes.
The Astros ended up making the postseason in spite of a sub-.500 record in the regular season, thanks to finishing second in the AL West, guaranteeing them a slot in the postseason. They had the worst record of the eight teams that qualified, but their second-place finish in a weak division allowed them to avoid facing the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round of the Wild Card Series; instead, they faced the Minnesota Twins, whom they swept in two games, and they managed to eliminate the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series, to set up a confrontation with the Rays in the ALCS. With their bats having suddenly come to life after slumbering all season, and in spite of a patched-together pitching staff, they gave the Rays a run for their money, pushing the series to the limit before bowing out, as many fans were wringing their hands at the thought of this disgraced bunch, who had not even maintained a winning record in the regular season, soiling the Fall Classic by their presence. One other strange thing about the Astros' record was the humongous difference between their home and road record: they went 20-10 at home, for a dominant .667 winning percentage, but were a putrid 9-21 on the road (.367) - even without any fans present to remind them constantly that were just a bunch of cheaters. That is the largest difference in winning percentage put up by any team since 1900!
- Nancy Armour: "Former Houston Astros execs sold out baseball, should never be near game again", USA Today, January 13, 2020. 
- Mark Feinsand: "Hinch, Luhnow are suspended for ‘20, then let go: Sign-stealing penalties include loss of top Draft picks, $5 million fine", mlb.com, January 13, 2020. 
- Gabe Lacques: "On day of reckoning, Houston Astros apologize to everybody – and nobody – at the same time", USA Today, February 13, 2020. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Astros stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve apologize for sign-stealing scandal: ’Sorry about the choices made'", USA Today, february 13, 2020. 
- Gabe Lacques: "10 days to Opening Day: Astros and MLB hope COVID-related 'fire drills' come to an end", USA Today, July 14, 2020. 
- Brian McTaggart: "Astros owner Crane on Luhnow, Hinch firings", mlb.com, January 13, 2020. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Investigation into Astros cheating allegations is 'most thorough' ever, MLB commissioner says", USA Today, December 11, 2020. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Justin Verlander's arm injury major blow to Houston Astros' World Series hopes", USA Today, July 26, 2020.