Houston Astros: The Ten Best Clubs in Franchise History
Face it: The only way the 2011 version of the Houston Astros make the postseason would be either on a video game or divine act from the General Manager in the Sky.
There's no need to linger on the fate of this bunch. Accept it, enjoy the wins when they happen and look forward to the future.
Another way to ease the current pain would be looking back at the past when the Astros were viable postseason threats and names like Scott, Bagwell, Biggio and Ryan were feature names on squads that made trips to either the Astrodome or Minute Maid Park worth the trip in spite of the oppressive Houston summers that tested human willpower.
Who would be your choice as the best single season Astros team of all-time? The pick for number one may not be what many would expect, but join us and prepare your own opinions.
For once, the words "Astros," "baseball" and "fun" should be reunited. Enjoy.
10. 1972 (84-69, 3rd in National League West)
It took three managers (Harry Walker, Salty Parker and Leo Durocher) to carry the club to its first winning season. The Astros spent much of the first half atop the West (51-41), but a 33-28 second half, along with the rise of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine—which added former Astro Joe Morgan the previous winter—relegated them to third.
The Astros led the NL with 708 runs scored behind an offense that featured 21-year-old OF Cesar Cedeno, who hit .320-22-82 and added 55 stolen bases and 103 runs scored. OF Jimmy Wynn enjoyed his last solid season as an Astro, batting .273 with 24 homers and 90 RBIs, while 1B Lee May clobbered 29 balls over the fence and drove in a club-best 98 runs.
Right-handers Larry Dierker and Don Wilson shared the team lead with 15 wins. Part of the team's second half failures were attributed to the fact the Astros could not find consistency behind their two aces. The trio of Dave Roberts, Jerry Reuss and Ken Forsch combined for a 27-28 record while manning the back end of the rotation.
9. 1994 (66-49, 2nd in National League Central)
In one of the biggest "What Might Have Been" scenarios in franchise history, the player's strike pulled the plug on what had been shaping up as a memorable chase between the Astros and Reds for the NL Central title.
Houston trailed Cincinnati by a half-game when play stopped on August 12. The Astros were riding the bat of 1B Jeff Bagwell, whose breakout season (.368-39-116) carried him to the National League Most Valuable Player award, while 2B Craig Biggio's .316 average and 39 stolen bases also provided ample firepower for rookie manager Terry Collins.
Doug Drabek was in the midst of a a remarkable season (12-6, 2.84 ERA) on the mound as Darryl Kile began to show signs that would eventually make him one of the decade's better pitchers. The club got an unexpected boost in the form of John Hudek, who emerged as the Astros' closer (16 saves, 2.97 ERA).
Had the season remained at its current pace, the Astros would have fell short of the wild card in its first year of use, as the Atlanta Braves held a two-game lead over them when the strike hit.
8. 2001 (93-69, 1st in National League Central, lost in NLDS)
The last of manager Larry Dierker's four division-winning clubs finished the season tied with the rival St. Louis Cardinals, but were quickly dashed out of the postseason by the Braves.
Houston didn't lack for lumber, with seven members of the lineup hitting at least 10 home runs. The season served as a breakout campaign for then-OF Lance Berkman, who hit a team-best .331 with 34 homers and 126 RBIs. Jeff Bagwell provided 39 homers and 130 RBIs to an offense that finished second in the NL with 847 runs scored.
After a horrific debut at Enron Field in 2000, the pitching staff improved by leaps and bounds. Shane Reynolds led the team with 16 wins, while Billy Wagner tallied 39 saves and an All-Star Game appearance. The season was also marked by the debut of rookie hurler Roy Oswalt, who joined the team in May and delivered a 14-3 record (2.73 ERA) that nearly won him Rookie of the Year honors.
7. 1979 (89-73, 2nd in National League West)
Owners of a 74-88 mark the year before, the Astros became one of the biggest stories of the 1979 season, bolting out of the gate and holding as much as a 10 1/2 game lead before fading in early September, finishing 1 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Reds.
Manager Bill Virdon generated only 583 runs, but a pitching staff led by ace righty J.R. Richard (18-13, 2.71 ERA, 313 strikeouts) tossed 19 shutouts to offset a lineup that hit only 49 home runs the entire season.
While Richard garnered the headlines, Joe Niekro led the team with 21 wins, with versatile Ken Forsch delivered 11 wins, including a no-hitter against Atlanta on April 7. Closer Joe Sambito nailed down what the starters couldn't finish, saving 22 games with a 1.77 ERA.
6. 1999 (97-65, 1st in National League West, lost in NLDS)
The Astros were able to hold off a late charge by the Cincinnati Reds to earn a third straight Central Division title but for the third straight season were sent home early, eliminated in four games by the Atlanta Braves.
The club's final season in the Astrodome was highlighted by the 1-2 punch of righty Jose Lima and southpaw Mike Hampton, as the duo combined for a 43-14 record. Hampton won 22 games while sporting a 2.90 ERA, while closer Billy Wagner slammed the door on 39 games en route to striking out a staggering 124 batters in 74 innings pitched.
Offensively the Astros got a mammoth season out of 1B Jeff Bagwell who hit .304 while recording at least 30 homers and 30 steals (42-30) for the second time in three seasons. Switch-hitting Carl Everett popped 25 homers, drove in 108 runs and stole 27 bases in what would prove to be a career year for him.
5. 1980 (93-70, 1st in National League West, lost in NLCS)
Five outs away from their first National League pennant, the Astros were unable to hold off the Philadelphia Phillies, losing in the decisive game of one of the most memorable postseason series of all time.
The Astros fell 8-7 in 10 innings to the Phils, closing the door on a wild season that saw them overcome the near-fatal stroke of ace righty J.R. Richard and nearly blowing the West title to a Dodgers team that swept them the final weekend of the regular season before Vern Ruhle's clutch pitching performance wrapped up the West crown in a one-game playoff.
LF Jose Cruz (.302-11-91, 36 steals) was the offensive leader of a club that stole 194 bases, offsetting a paltry total of 75 homers. CF Cesar Cedeno (.309-10-73) added a team-high 48 swipes as he and Cruz were two of six players who stole at least 21 bases.
Joe Niekro won 20 games for the second straight year (20-12, 3.55 ERA), while Ruhle finished 12-4 in place of Richard. The club had three relievers (Joe Sambito, Frank LaCorte, Dave Smith) who saved at least 10 games.
4. 2004 (92-70, 2nd in National League Central, lost in NLCS)
A team that appeared doomed at mid-season caught fire under new manager Phil Garner, going 23-7 in their last 30 games and clinching the wild card on the last day of the regular season.
The Astros finally earned their first postseason series win by dispatching longtime October tormentor Atlanta in the NLDS before falling to St. Louis in a spirited seven-game NLCS classic.
Five players hit at least 20 home runs, including in-season acquisition Carlos Beltran, who carried the club with a .455 average in the playoffs to go along with eight homers, 13 RBIs and six steals. OF Lance Berkman and 2B Jeff Kent each drove in over 100 runs while reserve 3B Mike Lamb delivered .288-14-58 in only 312 at-bats.
Roy Oswalt went 20-10 with a 3.49 ERA, but it was the addition of veteran Roger Clemens that helped solidify the staff. "The Rocket" finished 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA en route to earning the NL Cy Young award. Reliever Brad Lidge saved 29 games (1.90 ERA) while fanning 157 batters in just 94 innings of work.
3. 1986 (96-66, won National League West, lost in NLCS)
Rookie manager Hal Lanier's squad was carried by an astonishing season from RHP Mike Scott (18-10, 2.22, 306 strikeouts), who clinched the division with a no-hitter against San Francisco on September 25.
The Astros pushed the powerhouse New York Mets to the limit, but the bullpen failed to hold a 3-0 lead in the top of the ninth inning of game six of the NLCS, leading to a 16-inning marathon that New York won, thus avoiding Scott in a decisive game seven.
A balanced team was able to generate runs either with the thunder of 1B Glenn Davis (.265-31-101) and OF Kevin Bass (.311-20-79, 22 SB) or the speed of OF Billy Hatcher (38 steals) and 2B Bill Doran (42 steals, 92 runs scored). The 3B platoon of Phil Garner and Denny Walling combined for 22 homers and 99 RBIs.
Scott wasn't the only Astros hurler opponents feared, as Bob Knepper (17-12), Nolan Ryan (12-8) and rookie Jim Deshaies (12-5) each sported ERAs under 3.25. Reliever Charlie Kerfeld added 11 wins, while closer Dave Smith recorded 33 saves.
2. 2005 (89-73, 2nd in National League Central, lost in World Series)
A 3-0 loss to Milwaukee left the Astros at 16-31 on May 27, apparently leaving them dead; in fact, several newspapers placed tombstones on the team.
Much like 2004, the club sizzled after reaching a seemingly backbreaking low, going 73-42 the rest of the way and earning the wild card berth. After knocking off Atlanta in the NLDS, the Astros finally exorcised past postseason failures by thumping the Cardinals in six games to reach the World Series for the first time.
Unfortunately, the offense was unable to show up, as the Chicago White Sox soundly defeated them in a four-game sweep.
The season saw a changing of the offensive guard as Lance Berkman replaced future Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio as the headliner in the lineup (.293-24-82). The squad got a career year from 3B Morgan Ensberg, who hit .283 and led the club with 36 homers and 101 RBIs.
However, it was pitching that carried this team. Roy Oswalt won 20 games for a second straight season, while lefty Andy Pettitte went 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA. At age 42, Roger Clemens delivered a 13-8 mark with a 1.87 ERA, while Brandon Backe and rookie Wandy Rodriguez each won 10 games.
Closer Brad Lidge flamed out in the postseason, but the Astros would not have gone far without his 2.29 ERA and 42 saves.
1. 1998 (102-60, won National League Central, lost in NLDS)
On paper, this was a team that should have done more. The Astros had three future Hall of Famers (1B Jeff Bagwell, 2B Craig Biggio, P Randy Johnson), an offense that scored an NL-best 874 runs and a pitching staff that finished second in the league with a 3.50 ERA.
Despite setting a club-record for wins, the Astros -- who many thought stood the best chance of defeating the 114-win New York Yankees -- meekly exited the playoffs as the San Diego Padres delivered a four-game upset.
Bagwell (.304-34-111) and Biggio (.325-20-88, 50 SB) were in their prime, while Moises Alou put up MVP-caliber numbers (.312-38-124) in a lineup that had only one player batting under .265. Shane Reynolds led the staff with 19 wins, but it was the addition of Johnson (10-1, 1.28 ERA) that put the Astros over the top.
On a list of best teams to never win the pennant, the 1998 Astros would have no trouble making the short list.