40-Year-Old Postseason Hero Carlos Beltran Could Be Astros' 2017 X-Factor

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 16, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 01:  Carlos Beltran #15 of the Houston Astros is congratulated by third base coach Gary Pettis #8 after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on August 1, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

This may seem like a funny time to discuss why the Houston Astros can win in October, given the trouble they're having winning in August. But bear with us, and remember that nine of the last 16 teams to win the World Series lost at least 13 of 18 at some point, as the Astros had done before they beat the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday.

And none of those teams had Carlos Beltran.

The fact is the Astros have a few advantages over those past champions, beginning with their lead in the American League West. Even though the Astros are slumping and the Los Angeles Angels are streaking, the Astros are still up by 12.5 games. The computers at FanGraphs give them a 99.9 percent chance of winning the West, and that sounds about right.

The recent slump has exposed some issues. With Lance McCullers Jr. still out because of a back injury, perhaps the Astros should have been more aggressive at the deadline. Perhaps they should be more aggressive pursuing Justin Verlander now (Jon Heyman of FanRag reported Tuesday that they've talked again to the Tigers without apparent progress).

Reliever Chris Devenski, so good and so key in the first half, is now having trouble throwing strikes. That's another issue. But the Astros will get Carlos Correa back from the disabled list, and they'll get Brian McCann back, too.

And they have Carlos Beltran.

"He has been the perfect fit for us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. "His calmness and presence have been influential and will help us down the stretch. Being around him, I can see why and how is revered  in the league."

Beltran is revered, and he was the perfect fit for an Astros team with tons of young talent. He's also 40 years old, which means he's no longer the overall threat he was the first time around in Houston, when he hit .435 with eight home runs in 12 postseason games and very nearly got the Astros to their first World Series.

He's not that guy anymore. His .700 OPS this season would be his lowest for a season since 2000, when he was a 23-year-old kid with the RoyalsLike many older players, he has to get his swing going faster, making it harder to lay off some tough pitches. He's striking out 20.8 percent of the time, the highest rate of his career.

Don't be surprised if he outdoes all that in the games that matter most. Don't be surprised if he's a 40-year-old who changes a series, the way Raul Ibanez did for the New York Yankees with his two-homer game against the Baltimore Orioles in October 2012.

Ibanez, Willie Mays, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray and Joe Morgan are among those with postseason home runs in their 40s, and if you think it's a reach to include Beltran in that group, you're shortchanging a guy who has been one of the best postseason performers of our time.

Of the 190 players to appear in at least 35 postseason games, only one has a higher career October OPS than Beltran's 1.078, according to research through Baseball-Reference.com. You may have heard of him. His name was Babe Ruth.

Ruth never heard of OPS as a stat or "the postseason" as a concept. His 15 October home runs all came in the World Series.

Beltran has 16, and none of them came in the World Series. He's only been to the Fall Classic once, with the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to the Boston Red Sox. Beltran drove in 12 runs in 11 games to help get them there.

Beltran drove in six runs in six games to help the Cardinals past the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS.
Beltran drove in six runs in six games to help the Cardinals past the Dodgers in the 2013 NLCS.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

He was already an influential veteran then, already respected as a thinker and a strong clubhouse presence. The Astros brought him in as a free agent, and the conversations he has had with players like Correa and Alex Bregman will stick with them long beyond the time Beltran remains in the Astros lineup.

The Astros love the way he prepares for games. They love the way he sees games, and the way he reacts to his own struggles by watching video and working to get better.

"Carlos has been a tremendous influence on our team from the day he arrived," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Everyone respects his experience and his opinion, and he is open to helping all his teammates. He is a calming and positive influence on everyone."

The Astros need a guy like that now, but they'll need it even more two months from now. Many of their players have postseason experience thanks to the American League Division Series meeting with the Royals two years ago, but besides Beltran, only outfielder Josh Reddick and relievers Tyler Clippard and Francisco Liriano have ever played on a team that won a postseason series.

Beltran has been on the winning side of six series. He's had a huge influence on many of them.

He could have a huge influence on this postseason, too.

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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