Where Do Astros Rank Among Greatest MLB World Series Winners in Last 20 Years?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVNovember 6, 2022

Where Do Astros Rank Among Greatest MLB World Series Winners in Last 20 Years?

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    Houston's Jeremy Peña
    AP Photo/Matt Rourke

    The Houston Astros are your 2022 World Series champions, putting a bow on an impressive 106-win season with a dominant run through the Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies to claim their second championship in five years.

    They now hold the trophy for best MLB team in 2022, but where do they stack up against, say, the 2018 Boston Red Sox, 2016 Chicago Cubs and even the 2017 version of themselves in a ranking of the last 20 World Series champions?

    Our ranking is based primarily on regular-season success, both in terms of actual record and pythagorean record (expected record based on run differential). But postseason performance did factor in to the mix with the most impressive October runs providing slight boosts to the 2005 Chicago White Sox and 2008 Phillies.

    Teams are presented in ascending order of greatness.

No. 20: 2006 St. Louis Cardinals

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    Albert Pujols
    AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

    Record: 83-78
    Pythagorean Record: 82-79
    Postseason Record: 11-5

    Albert Pujols was awesome. He batted .331, clubbed 49 home runs and really should have been named the National League MVP despite Ryan Howard's MLB-best 58 home runs and 149 RBI.

    The rest of the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals were...not awesome. They benefited greatly from playing in a train wreck of a division, edging the Astros to become the second-worst team in MLB history to make the playoffs. (The San Diego Padres won the National League West in 2005 with an 82-80 record.)

    But when it mattered the most, the pitching staff showed up in a huge way. Chris Carpenter had two gems in the National League Division Series. Jeff Suppan followed suit with just one run allowed in 15 innings in the National League Championship Series. And Adam Wainwright, then a closer, went 9.2 innings without allowing a single run in the postseason.

No. 19: 2014 San Francisco Giants

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    Madison Bumgarner
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File

    Record: 88-74
    Pythagorean Record: 87-75
    Postseason Record: 12-5

    The "Even-Year Giants" was already a thing after the 2010 and 2012 World Series, but that this team won it all is what really made us wonder if San Francisco had made some sort of deal with the devil.

    In mid-August, the Giants were just six games above .500, and San Francisco would not have made the postseason if the Milwaukee Brewers had not imploded over the final month-and-a-half.

    As a result, the Giants made the playoffs as the National League's No. 5 seed, and that's when Madison Bumgarner went into god mode. He tossed a complete-game shutout in the Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh, jump-starting a 52.2 inning stretch of dominance in which he posted a 1.03 ERA and 0.65 WHIP.

    Not a single player on the roster hit multiple home runs during the Giants' 17-game run through the World Series, but Bumgarner carried them to their third title in five years.

No. 18: 2011 St. Louis Cardinals

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    David Freese
    AP Photo/Eric Gay

    Record: 90-72
    Pythagorean Record: 88-74
    Postseason Record: 11-7

    After putting both of their championships in the bottom three, I feel the need to clarify that I don't have some sort of vendetta against the Cardinals. The 2004 and 2013 teams were really good. They probably would have been in the top 10 on this list if they hadn't lost those trips to the World Series.

    St. Louis just happened to win it all at the end of two of its less stellar seasons.

    Case in point: With five days remaining in the 2011 regular season, the Cards had almost no postseason hope. They were three games behind Atlanta and only managed to sneak into the wild-card spot because it ended the season on a five-game losing streak.

    From there, the Cardinals barely won the NLDS against the Phillies, advancing thanks to a Chris Carpenter complete-game shutout in a 1-0 victory in Game 5. And then they barely won the World Series against the Texas Rangers, eking out that mind-blowing Game 6 (aka The David Freese Game) to force a Game 7 they also won.

No. 17: 2003 Florida Marlins

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    Iván Rodríguez
    AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

    Record: 91-71
    Pythagorean Record: 87-75
    Postseason Record: 11-6

    Has it seriously been 19 years since Steve Bartman became the most hated man on Chicago's North Side?

    Even before that outrageous comeback in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, the Florida Marlins were just lucky to be in the postseason. They fired manager Jeff Torborg 38 games into the season. They were 19 games over .500 against the bottom three teams in the National League East and were barely a .500 team against everyone else, making the playoffs as the NL's wild-card team.

    Oh, there were good players on that roster. Iván Rodríguez. Josh Beckett. A midseason call-up by the name of Miguel Cabrera. Dontrelle Willis. Stolen base king Juan Pierre. Mr. Hit Streak Luis Castillo. Mike Lowell and Derrek Lee each eclipsed 30 homers.

    But they were nothing special until Bartman stole that ball from Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez booted that tailor-made double-play ball and the curse of the billy goat reared its ugly head at Wrigley Field.

    The Fish rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS and from a 2-1 deficit in the World Series (against the Yankees) to claim their second World Series in just 11 years as a franchise.

No. 16: 2012 San Francisco Giants

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    Pablo Sandoval
    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    Record: 94-68
    Pythagorean Record: 88-74
    Postseason Record: 11-5

    The 2012 Giants were a horrendous slugging team. Buster Posey led the way with 24 home runs. No one else had more than 12. They hit just 103 home runs, ranking last in the majors and a full 13 dingers behind the closest squad.

    And then they were almost gone before their postseason journey started. They lost back-to-back home games against the Cincinnati Reds to open the NLDS and subsequently needed to win three consecutive road games to stay alive. But they somehow pulled it off, with Game 3's 10-inning affair swinging the momentum in their favor.

    In the NLCS, they were down 3-1 against the Cardinals. But the Giants dominated the final three games by a cumulative score of 20-1.

    And then they waltzed through the World Series in four games as Pablo Sandoval hit .500 with three home runs against the Detroit Tigers.

No. 15: 2021 Atlanta Braves

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    Eddie Rosario
    AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

    Record: 88-73
    Pythagorean Record: 94-67
    Postseason Record: 11-5

    It wasn't until 111 games into last year—and after Ronald Acuña Jr.'s season-ending injury—that Atlanta finally had a winning record.

    When it traded for Joc Pederson and Stephen Vogt during the All-Star break, it felt like a Hail Mary. And when it added Richard Rodríguez, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario two weeks later at the trade deadline, it felt like a "sure, why not, have fun" series of moves for a team going nowhere fast.

    It worked, though. From Aug. 3 to Aug. 22, the Braves went 16-2, turning a five-game deficit into a 4.5-game lead in the NL East and never giving it back.

    In the playoffs, they knocked off the 95-win Brewers, 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers and 95-win Astros to claim their first World Series title since 1995, with Rosario channeling his inner Reggie Jackson for a .383 batting average and 1.073 OPS during the postseason.

    But no one saw that coming (from Rosario or the Braves) two-thirds of the way through the regular season.

No. 14: 2015 Kansas City Royals

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    Salvador Perez
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    Record: 95-67
    Pythagorean Record: 90-72
    Postseason Record: 11-5

    The 2015 Kansas City Royals were, by far, the best version of the Kansas City Royals in many, many moons. In fact, the last time they had a better record or a better run differential was in 1980.

    However, "Great by Kansas City's standards" is still "below average among recent World Series champions."

    The Royals did have seven representatives on the American League All-Star team, including Lorenzo Cain, who finished third in the AL MVP vote. They did also somehow secure the American League's No. 1 seed with just 95 wins.

    But there was nothing dominant about them.

    No one hit more than 22 home runs. Cain was the only .300 hitter at .307. The ace of the staff was, I guess, Edinson Volquez with a 3.55 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Wade Davis in the closer role may have been their best asset. But it was timely hitting by Alcides Escobar in the American League Championship Series and Salvador Perez in the World Series that propelled them to the championship.

No. 13: 2010 San Francisco Giants

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    Tim Lincecum
    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    Record: 92-70
    Pythagorean Record: 94-68
    Postseason Record: 11-4

    Say this much for the 2010 Giants: They had pitchers.

    Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were great atop the rotation. Jonathan Sánchez had an incredible flash-in-the-pan season. And a 20-year-old by the name of Madison Bumgarner did pretty darn well in his 18 regular-season starts. Throw in Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson at the back of the bullpen, and opposing hitters were often left dejected.

    By no means were the Giants the favorites to win the World Series, though, because the lineup was just OK. Both Aubrey Huff (.290 AVG, 26 HR) and rookie Buster Posey (.305 AVG, 18 HR) got some NL MVP votes, but neither one came anywhere close to winning it.

    Heck, they only made it into the postseason by two games. Moreover, they had to survive low-scoring series against Atlanta in the NLDS and Philadelphia in the NLCS before their bats sprang to life in the World Series against Texas.

    Because of the impact of the pitching staff, though, the 2010 Giants were better champions than their 2012 or 2014 iteration.

No. 12: 2008 Philadelphia Phillies

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    Cole Hamels
    AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

    Record: 92-70
    Pythagorean Record: 93-69
    Postseason Record: 11-3

    From 2007-11, the Phillies had one heck of a run. Had they won it all at their apex in 2011, that "Four Aces" rotation would have easily landed in our top five.

    In 2008, though, it was all about the offense.

    The Phils led the NL with 214 home runs and also ranked third in stolen bases with 136. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth each posted double digits in both categories, while Ryan Howard led the way with 48 dingers. Even with Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz having a dreadful season at the dish, they were relentless.

    Among NL teams, only the Cubs scored more runs during the regular season, and the 84-win Dodgers did the Phillies a solid by sweeping Chicago in the NLDS. That paved the way for Philadelphia to cruise to the World Series title, as it dropped just one game in each series.

    While the hitters led the way during the regular season, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge showed out in the postseason. The former logged 35 innings with a 1.80 ERA. The latter pitched the final inning in nine of the 11 wins and recorded seven saves with a 0.96 ERA.

No. 11: 2019 Washington Nationals

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    Stephen Strasburg
    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    Record: 93-69
    Pythagorean Record: 95-67
    Postseason Record: 12-5

    Take out the 19-31 start to the regular season, and maybe the "Cardiac Nats" rank a lot higher on this list.

    After that, though, they were basically neck and neck and neck with the Astros and Dodgers for the title of best team in baseball.

    So, it's fitting that they knocked out those teams in unbelievable series.

    Game 5 of the NLDS went to extra innings before Howie Kendrick saved the day against Los Angeles, and then the road team won all seven games of a ridiculous World Series.

    The bullpen was a colossal question mark heading into the postseason, but aside from that, the team had a good amount of star power. It was the year after Bryce Harper left, but still the pitching Big Three of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin was doggone good, as was a lineup in which 10 players hit at least a dozen homers, led by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (34 apiece).

    (Yes, it's hard to believe that was only three years ago.)

No. 10: 2004 Boston Red Sox

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    Pedro Martínez, Curt Schilling and David Ortiz
    AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File

    Record: 98-64
    Pythagorean Record: 96-66
    Postseason Record: 11-3

    Yes, the Red Sox have won four World Series in the past 20 years and, yes, we're just now encountering one of those teams in this ranking.

    Translation: If you hate the Red Sox, buckle up.

    This squad was, of course, the curse breaker. It stormed back from the 3-0 deficit in the ALCS against the Yankees and won eight consecutive games for the franchise's first World Series title since 1918. The Dave Roberts stolen base in Game 4. The Curt Schilling bloody sock in Game 6. All iconic stuff.

    But it simply wasn't the best version of the Red Sox over the past two decades.

    Sure, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were great, each eclipsing 40 home runs during the regular season—and Big Papi was sensational in that postseason with a .400 batting average, five homers and 19 RBI. And that one-two punch of Schilling and Pedro Martínez was tough for any team to match.

    Compared to the 2007, 2013 and 2018 Red Sox, though, the pitching staff was a mess, and there were weak links in the lineup.

No. 9: 2005 Chicago White Sox

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    Joe Crede
    AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

    Record: 99-63
    Pythagorean Record: 91-71
    Postseason Record: 11-1

    You know that "Dudes can literally just sit around and name old sports players and just have the best time" tweet from two summers ago?

    Am I the only one who immediately went to the 2005 White Sox there?

    Scott Podsednik. Paul Konerko. A.J. Pierzynski. Mark Buehrle. Joe Crede! Just classic "you had to be there" names.

    As far as their pythagorean record is concerned, though, the 2005 White Sox should not have even made the playoffs. They had the sixth-best run differential in the AL at a time when only four teams from each league made the postseason.

    However, they went 35-19 in one-run games and made mincemeat of their division, finishing 30 games above .500 against the American League Central. Because of that, not only did they make the postseason, but they secured home-field advantage throughout it.

    And once in the playoffs, Chicago went on a rampage, going 11-1 against the Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Astros.

    There were plenty of close calls as far as individual games go. Bobby Jenks had to save four games. Two of the others ended in walk-off fashion. And yet another (in the World Series) went to 14 innings. But the Sox were never even remotely in danger of getting eliminated during one of the most dominant postseason runs ever.

No. 8: 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mookie Betts
    AP Photo/Eric Gay

    Record: 43-17
    Pythagorean Record: 43-17
    Postseason Record: 13-5

    Yeah, I don't know where to rank the 2020 Dodgers, and neither do you.

    You could argue for them at No. 1, as they had a winning percentage that put them on a 162-game pace of 116 victories. Plus, they had to win more postseason games than any other World Series champion because of that temporary 16-team playoff bracket.

    You could also argue for them at No. 20 because they didn't have to play anything close to a full season and the games they did play were in empty stadiums against surely at least a few opponents who were short-handed because of positive COVID-19 tests.

    But they didn't fluke their way into the title. That was a loaded team. One that smacked 16 home runs in the seven-game NLCS before clubbing 12 more in the six-game World Series.

    Led by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and AJ Pollock, they were wired to hit. And the pitching arsenal led by Clayton Kershaw was no joke, either.

    We'll never know how things would have panned out over the course of a full season, but those Dodgers were every bit as good as the other iterations of that franchise since 2017. They were just the only one to actually seal the deal.

No. 7: 2013 Boston Red Sox

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    David Ortiz
    AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File

    Record: 97-65
    Pythagorean Record: 100-62
    Postseason Record: 11-5

    At long last, we finally made it to a team that won 100 games or that should have won 100 games.

    The 2013 Red Sox were ridiculously good on offense, at least compared to their peers that season. They didn't actually hit all that many home runs (178), but they led the majors in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage, stole 123 bases and scored 57 more runs (853) than the next-best team.

    They had a .329 batting average on balls in play, trailing only the 2017 Colorado Rockies (.332) for the best—or luckiest—mark of the past two decades.

    That was also the year Clay Buchholz made 16 starts, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA. If he hadn't missed three months with neck and shoulder soreness, the Red Sox might have won another 8-10 games to make a real case for No. 1 on this list.

    Per usual, David Ortiz was great in the postseason, batting .353 with five home runs. And he was absurdly dominant in the six-game World Series against the Cardinals, going 11-for-16 with eight walks for a .688 batting average and .760 on-base percentage.

No. 6: 2009 New York Yankees

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    Hideki Matsui
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    Record: 103-59
    Pythagorean Record: 95-67
    Postseason Record: 11-4

    As far as run differential goes, the 2009 Yankees were merely the ninth-best Yankees team of the past 20 years.

    But this star-studded roster was the only one to win the whole shebang.

    Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Robinson Canó, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui each finished the regular season with at least 20 home runs and at least 80 RBI. And while Derek Jeter didn't quite reach either of those plateaus, he was their most valuable player with a .334 average, 30 stolen bases and the best defensive season of his career.

    Even Melky Cabrera batted .274 with 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases as the team's "worst" regular starter, so this lineup was darn near impossible for opposing pitchers to handle.

    In their 15 postseason games, they racked up 80 runs, including 20 home runs. Matsui hit .615 in the World Series against the Phillies. CC Sabathia may have been the brightest star of all, pitching into the seventh inning in each of his five starts and posting a 1.98 ERA. The Yankees might not have won the ALCS against the Angels without his gems in Games 1 and 4.

No. 5: 2017 Houston Astros

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    George Springer
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    Record: 101-61
    Pythagorean Record: 99-63
    Postseason Record: 11-7

    You know, the funny thing about the whole trash can scandal is that the Astros hit like trash in the 2017 ALCS. That series against the Yankees went the distance, and Houston hit .187/.271/.294 with just four home runs.

    The Astros may have been cheating, and they did win all four of the home games, but they only hit .238 at home that week.

    Over the course of the full season, though, 11 players hit at least a dozen home runs, carrying a nothing-special pitching staff (well, nothing special until the end-of-August acquisition of Justin Verlander) to 101 wins.

    And after slumping through the ALCS, they went off for 15 home runs in the World Series (eight at home, seven on the road) against the Dodgers, led by George Springer's five blasts. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel also each hit multiple home runs in what was one of the greatest World Series of all time.

No. 4: 2007 Boston Red Sox

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    Manny Ramirez
    AP Photo/Winslow Townson

    Record: 96-66
    Pythagorean Record: 101-61
    Postseason Record: 11-3

    The 2007 Red Sox were an oldie but a goodie.

    Dustin Pedroia was only 23 and won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but two-thirds of the starting lineup was 31 or older. Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez were 35. Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield were 40, and Mike Timlin checked in at 41.

    But any fears about those veterans maybe running out of gas by October were unfounded.

    Boston hit .313 and slugged .517 during the postseason. And while Schilling was nowhere near the strikeout artist he was in his youth, he went 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in the playoffs.

    They swept the Angels in the American League Division Series and Rockies in the World Series. And with their backs up against the wall in the ALCS against Cleveland, the Red Sox won Games 5-7 by a combined score of 30-5 with Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew leading offensive explosions.

No. 3: 2016 Chicago Cubs

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    Aroldis Chapman
    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    Record: 103-58
    Pythagorean Record: 107-54
    Postseason Record: 11-6

    When you think back on the mid-2010s Cubs, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are typically the first names that spring to mind. And, well, that duo was great in 2016, each batting .292, posting an on-base percentage of .385 and eclipsing both 30 home runs and 100 RBI for a relatively potent offense.

    The hallmark of the 108-year-drought-breaking champion, however, was the pitching staff.

    Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks finished second and third in NL Cy Young Award voting, each posting a sub-2.50 ERA. Jake Arrieta also got a couple of Cy Young votes. And having John Lackey (3.35 ERA) and Jason Hammel (3.83 ERA) as the "weak" part of the rotation was one heck of a strength. All five starters won double-digit games, and they struck out a combined 881 hitters.

    And what really pushed the Cubs over the top was the trade for Aroldis Chapman in late July.

    He made 28 regular-season appearances and recorded 16 saves and a 1.01 ERA, and then he pitched in what sure felt like every single game in the postseason, going 2-0 with four saves in 15.2 innings. He gave up the disastrous, game-tying home run to Rajai Davis in Game 7 of the World Series against Cleveland, but as the team's only trusted reliever, he was running on fumes.

    Fortunately for the Cubs, the offense saved their closer. After a 17-minute rain delay between the 9th and 10th innings, both Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero delivered clutch RBI hits for an 8-7, curse-breaking victory.

No. 2: 2018 Boston Red Sox

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    J.D. Martinez
    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    Record: 108-54
    Pythagorean Record: 103-59
    Postseason Record: 11-3

    Boston has produced some great champions over the past 20 years, but there's little question that the 2018 version was the best of the bunch, winning at least 10 more games than each of the 2004, 2007 and 2013 squads and never even flirting with getting eliminated in the postseason.

    The 1-2 punch of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez was incredible, as each star posted an OPS north of 1.000. They also had Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts putting up solid numbers at the dish, which made for a near-constant state of run-scoring opportunities.

    (And when Steve Pearce out of nowhere hit three home runs in the World Series, Boston became unfair to play against.)

    This was also the year that Chris Sale posted the lowest ERA of his career as a starter (2.11), while David Price won 16 games and Craig Kimbrel saved 42. So, Boston had great pitching to go along with its almost unstoppable offense.

No. 1: 2022 Houston Astros

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    Justin Verlander
    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    Record: 106-56
    Pythagorean Record: 106-56
    Postseason Record: 11-2

    A lot of people are going to be annoyed by this ranking and will accuse me of getting too wrapped up in the moment.

    But here's a fun fact for you: Dating back to 1954, there have been only four World Series champions that won at least 65 percent of their games and had a large enough run differential for a pythagorean winning percentage of at least .650. Those teams are: the 1975 "Big Red Machine" Reds, 1998 Yankees (the apex of the most recent dynasty in MLB history), 2020 Dodgers (who played only 60 regular-season games) and these Astros.

    We spent so much of this season focused on the 111-win Dodgers and Yankees, who started 61-23 before collapsing in spectacular fashion, that we just kind of took a damn good team for granted as it reached its sixth consecutive ALCS.

    Justin Verlander is going to win the AL Cy Young Award. Jeremy Peña should finish No. 2 in the AL Rookie of the Year race. Yordan Alvarez ought to be headed for a third-place finish in AL MVP voting. And the Astros also got great seasons out of Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and others.

    They just had no weak point, save for maybe Yuli Gurriel's batting .242 one year removed from winning the AL batting title. But even he made up for lost time in the postseason, leading the team with a .347 batting average.

    As a result, they swept the Mariners and Yankees and then made history with a combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series.

    This Houston team is the new standard against which future World Series champions will be measured.

    (You know, as long as we don't find out about another cheating scandal a couple of years down the road.)

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