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Houston is a problem

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The 2020 Houston Astros aren’t the same club that cheated in 2017-2019, but that doesn’t mean them winning this season is easy to swallow.

Division Series - Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If you’re someone who doesn’t like the Houston Astros, that’s understandable. They are, in every possible way, an easy team to hate. From the top of their organization all the way to the bottom they have been more than willing the past few years to play the role of the heel. As details emerged of their cheating ways it became all too common to not just hate what the team had done, but to ignore that they had cheated despite being a massively talented group. Even as the Astros sit one game away from advancing to the American League Championship Series they are a team that most hate.

Beyond the reasons to hate the Astros there a few truths that people need to come to grips with. First and foremost, the Astros roster is very talented. It always has been, everyone has always known that. We know that they cheated. We also know that while their cheating may have delegitimized their World Series victories and ensuing playoff appearances it did so because they were talented enough to win without cheating. No, the Astros aren’t cheating this season. What they are doing is playing great baseball when they most need to and barreling towards an ALCS appearance.

They are doing so while missing key cogs of their previous success. Both in terms of their on the field players and their front office. New people are at the helm of this Astros team, and integral players have either left through free agency or are sidelined via injury. Despite all those changes and losses, the Astros are still winning. If you’re not happy with this, that’s fine. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely happy the Astros are winning either. However, most of my unease comes from the way Major League Baseball handled not actually disciplining the Astros for their previous cheating.

My unease with the Astros winning ways is cut by the fact that one man on their team really deserves to win. Dusty Baker was put in an impossible spot when he took over managerial duties from AJ Hinch. He grabbed the reigns for a team that was almost universally hated, was put in a position by the front office to answer for the transgressions of a regime he wasn’t a part of, and entered 2020 on a 1-year lame-duck contract in a season cut into by Coronavirus. All Baker did was answer every question asked of him while keeping the Astros in the playoff picture until he now has the team on the precipice of punching another ALCS ticket.

Dusty Baker is a winner, he’s been a winner his entire managerial career. Like all managers, he’s had his ups and downs, and he’s certainly not the manager today that he was in 2002 or 2003. He no longer rides young pitchers so hard that their vibrant arms are lost to a career of injuries. Baker no longer fears letting young players loose and is willing to tell veterans to take on a supporting role. In-game Dusty has shown a willingness to take his old-school approach and meld it with the numbers based approach that dominates the game of baseball in 2020. In every respect, Baker has done what great managers are expected to do. Still, you know and I know that if Baker doesn’t win a World Series by the time his managerial career is over then he will be remembered more for his few failures than his many successes.

I’m not saying you have to think Yuli Gurriel is a great guy and forget all about his racist acts that he never atoned for. You don’t have to like Alex Bregman’s forced superstar personality or run about signing the praises of George Springer’s crybaby tendencies. What I am saying is you need to recognize that the Astros are still a great team and that when the dust settles in a few weeks there’s a great chance they are hoisting a trophy above their heads. The Houston Astros celebrating a World Series title in 2020 should leave you with an uneasy feeling, but for both good and bad reasons you need to start preparing yourself for that possibility.