For the first time in 21 years the Astros are division champs, recently clinching the American League West title. This is the Astros’ seventh division title in team history, and their first since they won four in a five-year stretch in the National League Central from 1997-01. The Astros also won the NL West in 1980 and 1986. When the Astros won the NL pennant in 2005, they did so as a wild card.
With goal No. 1 for the 2017 season accomplished, the franchise now turns its attention toward the month of October and playoff baseball.
“The No. 1 priority is to win the division,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We set out that goal right away from the beginning of spring training. We wanted to take care of our own business and win the division. We did that. We need 11 wins in October to make it even more special. The fact we could clinch it at home in front of our home fans is a really special feeling for a really special group of guys.”
It has been a magical season for the Astros, getting off to a hot start and going 42-16 to start this season. Despite a rash of key injuries along the way the team has stayed the course. Outfielder Josh Reddick discussed what the difference has been this year.
“The way this team gets along, I don’t think I’ve ever had the chemistry that we have here,” Reddick said. “Everybody is cheering everybody on and wants them to do better than we did before. This is a whole locker room full of happy guys who pull for each other. We want everybody to do well.”
The team’s acquisition of former Cy Young and AL MVP award winning pitcher Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers is the type of move that should loom large in the playoffs. All Verlander has done in three starts is go 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA.
Verlander was on the mound for the division-clinching game, a 10 strikeout, three hit performance over seven innings in a win over Seattle (7-1).
“The story is almost too good to be true, Hinch said. “We traded for [Verlander] for this exact reason, to come up in big moments. He was locked in from the very beginning. There’s nobody better to have on the mound and nobody better to celebrate with.”
Catcher Brian McCann also endorsed Verlander.
“He’s a game-changer,” McCann said. “He changes the whole dynamic of our team.”