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How Byron Buxton Shed a Crippling Slump To Help Push the Twins Toward the Playoffs

cheap mlb jerseys australia time The numbers were nothing pretty; Byron Buxton Jerseys knew that much. It was the last week of June, the Twins had just finished a series against the Red Sox and Minnesota’s 23-year-old centerfielder had come up empty over and over again. In 11 at-bats in Boston, Buxton managed only one hit—an RBI single dunked into leftfield—and struck out four times, all swinging. The sorry showing dumped his season batting average below .200; the four whiffs brought him up to 80 in just 248 trips to the plate on the year. It seemed like the same sad story from last season: The former No. 1 prospect again looked overwhelmed by a game that he was supposed to be dominating.


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Since making his major league debut two years earlier, Buxton had known nothing but struggle and failure, and as the pressure to perform built, his urge to tinker would increase. A change in his swing, a tweak to his mechanics, the addition and subtraction and then re-addition of a leg kick … Buxton cycled through potential solutions, picking up and discarding adjustments like a college freshman shopping classes. Yet nothing seemed to work. As a high school phenom, the sport had come easy. Now, he struggled to make sense of it. “You feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, especially when it happens day after day after day,” he says. “It’s very hard to try to find something good out of that.”


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After a horrible first month of the season, Buxton and new Twins hitting coach James Rowson had started working on a series of changes to his stance and swing. As the weeks went by and the strikeouts piled up, it would have been easy to understand if Buxton had ditched the new mechanics and started from scratch once more. But as he talked things over with Rowson after that awful series at Fenway Park, there was no sense of panic or frustration. Those 11 at-bats may have resulted in just one measly single, but to Buxton, they were the beginning of something promising.


all jersey baseball and softball images “I was like, J-Ro, something feels different,” he says. “I’m starting to feel what my legs are actually supposed to do and what the pitcher’s trying to do to me. The game just got so much slower for me. I started understanding what people were telling me about my swing. That’s when I really took off.” “Took off” is an understatement. Since the beginning of July, Buxton is hitting a scalding .315/.365/.571 with 12 home runs in 225 plate appearances. His .939 OPS since the All-Star break, meanwhile, tops big-name sluggers like Kris Bryant Jerseys, Eric Hosmer Jerseys, Nelson Cruz Jerseys and Gary Sanchez Jerseys. And his huge second half is one of the top reasons why the Twins, coming off a 103-loss 2016 season and left for dead at the trade deadline, have surged into postseason contention as the second wild card.


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“When I get in the batter’s box, I have amazing amounts of comfort and confidence,” Buxton says. “Anything close to the plate, I feel like I can get a hit.” From the day he was drafted as the No. 2 pick in 2012 out of a small Georgia high school as a five-tool superstar, the Twins and baseball fans have been waiting for this moment: the breakout of Byron Buxton Jerseys. The kid who hit .513 and stole 38 bases in 39 games as a senior, who in 2013 was the consensus top prospect in all of baseball at the age of 19, who reached the big leagues at 21 with so much hype piled on him that it was a wonder he could stand up straight … MLB had seen only flashes of that player. The Gold Glove-caliber defense has been there; so has the game-changing speed. But both have been buried beneath countless miserable at-bats full of confused, lost swings.


cheap mlb jerseys australia time The transition to the majors for any player is tough enough, but most of them don’t carry the weight of a franchise on their shoulders. So it was for Buxton, tasked with bringing back to relevance a Twins team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009, hadn’t advanced past the first round since ’02, and hadn’t won a World Series since 1991, two years before Buxton was born. Buxton was part of a youth movement that was supposed to form the core of the next Minnesota contender sooner rather than later, and the pressure for him to contribute right from day one was significant.


“Even though I would tell myself that the pressure doesn’t bother me, it’s still in the back of your head,” he says. “It spiraled downhill.” Translating everything that had made him so good in high school and in the minors to the majors felt impossible. Buxton’s 2016 season lasted all of 17 games and 49 plate appearances in which he hit .156 and struck out 24 times before he was sent back down to Triple A in late April. When he was recalled at the end of May, he hit .204 over the next two months before being demoted again. Even when things were going well, he knew it wouldn’t last. Last September, he climbed out of his season-long slump by hitting .287/.357/.653 and homering nine times in 29 games. But his success was built on a hot streak that he couldn’t control or fully understand.


“Even though it was good, I still wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I was doing,” Buxton says. “I was hitting the ball and seeing the ball, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you if I were using my legs or if my hands were in a certain spot.” As expected, the strong September finish didn’t carry over into April, but it wasn’t just that the results weren’t there. Watch any of his early-season at-bats, and you’ll see a player struggling with every aspect of hitting. “He was spinning off the ball so badly, his recognition phase was almost nil, and the bat was in and out of the zone so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to hit anything that was away from him, especially if it was breaking away,” says manager Paul Molitor. Things got so bad in those first two months that he and the Twins’ front office discussed sending Buxton down to Triple A yet again.


“Part of the conversation I remember having with [general manager] Thad [Levine] and [chief baseball officer] Derek [Falvey] is how much can we beat this kid up here?” Molitor says. “He was still helping us win games—it was incredible the way he was able to separate the offense and defense. But as strong as he is mentally, eventually you’re going to reach a breaking point.”


As the team tried to figure out what to do with Buxton, he and Rowson worked on a fix. The first thing to go was his leg kick, which he had been using on and off since 2015: Rowson ditched it, hoping to create increased stability in Buxton’s lower half to allow him to drive the ball to all fields. He also had Buxton close his stance slightly, choke up more on the bat, and change his setup so his bat was down on his shoulders instead of pointing straight up, putting his hands more in sync with his hips and legs. “It allows him to put short, more accurate swings on the baseball,” Rowson says of the changes.


The numbers weren’t immediately there, but Molitor could tell something was different. “You could see that he’s not chasing that slider nearly as much, that he’s taking that fastball and hitting it to the right-center gap,” he says. “Just baby steps at first.” For Buxton, the changes helped slow the game down; for the first time in his major league career, he felt in charge of his at-bats. “I’ve got a feeling of what it’s supposed to be like and how it’s supposed to feel,” he says. “I can tell you with one pitch whether I was out front or was on my backside too long or didn’t get my hips through.”


Buxton has never struggled with any other aspect of his game. There are few if any players who can touch him with the glove: With every new Statcast number that charts outfield defense comes a leaderboard that always seems to have his name at the top. Likewise with his legs: He owns MLB’s top Sprint Speed at 30.2 feet per second, as well as the game’s fastest time from first to third on a triple—a blazing 10.52 seconds. Those skills have helped him stay moderately productive even despite his putrid offense. What’s truly scary to think about it is how good he can be if his breakout is for real. “He’d be a dangerous guy to put a ceiling on, because if you do, he’s probably going to go through it,” Rowson says.


There are many factors in the Twins’ sudden success: The development of hulking slugger Miguel Sano Jerseys; the emergence of power-hitting outfielder Eddie Rosario Jerseys; the maturation of hard-throwing righty Jose Berrios. But Minnesota’s success is always going to hinge most on Buxton, because his upside is so much higher than virtually everyone else in the game. He’s the nearly finished Death Star in Return of the Jedi, and he’s tantalizingly close to being fully armed and operational.


There will still likely be hiccups as Buxton develops: He entered Thursday’s action hitless in his last 10 at-bats with seven strikeouts as the Yankees unceremoniously swept the Twins in the Bronx. He’s likely to get a second chance at doing better in the House that Ruth Built if Minnesota can hold off the Angels for the second wild card and return to face New York in the wild-card game. But playoffs or not, there is hope that the real Byron Buxton Jerseys has finally shown up—and now, he finally has the numbers on his side.

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Chris Sale’s 300-Strikeout Season Places Him In Elite Company

cheap mlb hats walmart locations On Wednesday night, Red Sox ace Chris Sale Jerseys made a bit of history, becoming the first American League pitcher to tally 300 strikeouts since the turn of the millennium, and just the fourth since the adoption of the designated hitter in 1973. While the 28-year-old southpaw’s case for the AL Cy Young isn’t as strong as it was a couple months ago, he’s joined some elite company.


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At Camden Yards, Sale spun eight shutout innings against the Orioles, allowing just four hits without a walk and matching his season high of 13 strikeouts. The last of those came on his 111th and final pitch of the night, a slider that caught Ryan Flaherty Jerseys looking. The whiff was his 300 for the season, making him the first AL pitcher to reach the mark since the Red Sox’s Pedro Martinez in 1999. Since then, the only pitchers to strike out 300 have hailed from the NL, where pitchers bat: the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson (four times, annually from 1999–2002) and Curt Schlling (2002) and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw Jerseys (2015).


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As with other single-season milestones such as 20 wins and 250 innings, the disappearance of the 300-strikeout season owes plenty to the reduced workloads of starters via the industry-wide adoption of five-man rotations, increased reliance upon bullpens at the expense of complete games, and the use of pitch counts and (for younger pitchers) innings caps as a crude attempt to prevent injuries. In the 18 seasons since Martinez struck out 313 hitters (in just 213 1/3 innings), only nine times has a pitcher thrown at least 250 innings, and only three times has one made more than 35 starts.


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While pitcher workloads have decreased during this millennium, strikeouts have been on the rise continuously since 2006, as I pointed out in connection with this year’s record number of home runs. This will be the 12th consecutive season that MLB sets a new record for total strikeouts, with the figure topping 40,000 for the first time. The analytic revolution has reduced the stigma against the K, finding that in most cases, for hitters the strikeout is just another out. It’s preferable to grounding into a double play, and generally correlated with greater power at the plate. For pitchers, K’s have far more value, and with the reduction of the starters’ workloads has come a parade of relievers pitching with maximum effort for one inning at high velocity, further boosting strikeout rates.


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Thus, it’s worth putting Sale’s accomplishment into context, at least among the other 300-strikeout seasons. A total of 16 pitchers have reached the plateau 35 times since 1901, just five of which came prior to the majors’ first-wave of expansion in 1961-62. As with ERA+ and OPS+, we can index a pitcher’s strikeout rate to the league rate (both expressed in terms of strikeouts per plate appearance), with 100 being league average, and every increment in each direction representing a one percent difference. That means 120 and 80 would respectively indicate pitchers striking out hitters 20% more or less frequently than the league average. Unlike ERA and OPS, I’m foregoing park effects for the sake of simplicity here, but this at least puts the leagues on the same footing, whether or not they have the DH. Call the stat K+, one I’ve begged the folks at Baseball-Reference for, again and again.


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Sale has whiffed 36.3% of all batters faced in a league where 21.3% is average, for a 171 K+. Of the 35 300-K seasons, that’s actually at the lower end, but the company is still quite impressive: In 1999, Martinez struck out hitters at more than twice the league rate, whereas Sale is not quite to doubling it. Still, the latter’s season outranks three of those by Hall of Famers, namely Koufax and Carlton; someday, both Kershaw and Schilling will be enshrined as well. All of the top 10 seasons were produced by Hall of Famers, as were the majority of the 15 that land in the middle of those two tables: five more by Randy Johnson, two by Walter Johnson, and one apiece by Koufax, Martinez and Ryan.


So Sale’s season isn’t as impressive as Martinez’s by this measure, but then the latter’s season is one of the greatest in any context; his 243 ERA+ that year ranks eighth since 1901. In 2000, when Martinez set a record via a 291 ERA+ (1.74? in a league where 4.91 was average), he also produced a 221 K+ (284 strikeouts, a 34.8% rate in a league where 15.7% was average). As that season illustrates, it’s possible to have an impressively high K+ without reaching 300 strikeouts. Indeed, the top two pitchers of all time in terms of strikeout rate (K/PA) dominate the top 10 for the wild card era (1995 onward) among ERA qualifiers (one inning pitched per team game scheduled): Johnson’s 1998 season is weighted by the number of batters faced in both leagues (he was traded from the Mariners to the Astros at the deadline). That season bumps Martinez’s 186 K+ from 2002 out of the top 10. Sale’s 171 ranks 23rd during the wild card era, but it’s second since 2006, the beginning of the period during which K rates have continuously risen.

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The Astros Are Surging Toward October And Justin Verlander Is Leading The Way

cheap mlb baseball hats for kids HOUSTON—Remember the Houston Astros Jerseys? You know, that team that roared to a 42–16 start, but lost its Flavor-of-the-Month popularity as the Cleveland Indians Jerseys literally shook the rafters of Progressive Field with a once-in-a-lifetime winning streak? The team that faded as the Los Angeles Dodgers Jerseys lapsed into the most overrated, over-analyzed losing streak in baseball history, and as the New York Yankees Jerseys and Boston Red Sox Jerseys reminded us that as rivalries go, Yankees-Red Sox is so reliable that you can set your smartwatch to it?

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Houston faded from national view in large part because of a 20–22 downturn that hit it shortly after the All-Star break. Well, in those 42 games, shortstop Carlos Correa Jerseys played in none of them because of an injured thumb, and presumptive playoff starters Dallas Keuchel Jerseys, Justin Verlander Jerseys and Lance McCullers Jerseys started only nine of them. That was no time to judge Houston.

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To watch the Astros play baseball recently is to see a team that might even be better than the one that started 42–16. Ever since general manager Jeff Luhnow made the kind of trade that I said at the start of the season he would have to make—a trade that hurts, being that he had to dip into his proud stash of prospects to get an elite pitcher (in this case, Verlander, with one second to spare)—the Astros have looked like a dangerous postseason team, fully capable of winning the franchise’s first world championship.
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Here’s what you missed this weekend as Houston delivered a knockout sweep to Seattle: The Astros outscored Seattle, 20–9, and reaffirmed that this is one of the most dangerous offensive teams in a generation—and one with the profile to win postseason style when pitching rotations shorten. Houston leads the league in runs and has struck out the least. No team has accomplished that double since the 1995 Indians, and not in a full season since the 1988 Red Sox.
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Correa hit his first home run since July 9, one of his four hits in the series, as he stung the ball the hardest since his injury. He’s back. Jose Altuve Jerseys started putting a bow on his MVP candidacy, pushing his hit total to 193 as he seeks to become the first player ever to lead his league in hits outright for four straight years. Keuchel, after suffering neck and shoulder woes, left no doubt that his trademark sinker is back in top form. He threw 52 sinkers Saturday, producing no swings and misses but getting 11 grounders on the 12 sinkers put into play and giving up only one hit on the pitch. It was a clinic on pitching to soft contact at the bottom of the zone, reminiscent of his 2015 Cy Young season.
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Verlander, for the second straight start, matched his season high by getting 17 swings and misses and punched out 10 batters in seven innings. In three starts for Houston, all of which have resulted in Astros wins, he has allowed just two runs and 10 hits in 21 innings, striking out 26 against three walks. His stuff is as good as ever. Starting pitching, the weakness of the team a month ago, suddenly looks like a postseason strength. “Dallas has been solid,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s getting his ground balls. There’s nothing too different now from the Dallas Keuchel Jerseys of 2015.”

With nothing firm yet, here is how the Astros are planning their rotation for the Division Series: Game 1: Verlander, because he’s been the most dominant pitcher in baseball since the middle of August (5–0, 1.29 ERA) … unless Houston plays the Yankees. In that case you should expect Hinch to give the ball to Keuchel. Why? Keuchel has the lowest ERA in history among all pitchers who ever made at least six starts against the Yankees (1.41, displacing Jing Johnson, who last threw a pitch in 1928). If you include his six shutout innings against New York in the 2015 wild-card game, Keuchel has a career ERA against the Yankees of 1.24 and has never allowed a home run to the 188 Yankees batters he has faced.

Game 2: Keuchel, or if it’s against New York, Verlander. Game 3: Lance McCullers Jerseys. He will pitch behind Collin McHugh Jerseys on Tuesday, but his stuff is too electric not to get a start in the postseason. He has missed time with a back ailment and arm fatigue, but he’s checked out fine, and the rest will be beneficial for a smallish righthander with max velocity and spin who’ll never be a 30-start, 200-inning rotation fixture. Game 4: Brad Peacock Jerseys. Not excited about someone who entered this year with a career record of 11–17? Check out these numbers, which show that Peacock, in a breakout year, has the kind of pure stuff you want on the mound in October.
Lowest BA vs. Four-Seam Fastballs, AL Starters
1. Chris Sale Jerseys, Red Sox .174
2. Michael Fulmer Jerseys, Tigers .185
3. Brad Peacock Jerseys, Astros .191
Highest Slider Spin Rate, AL Starters
1. Sonny Gray Jerseys, Yankees 2,850
2. Jaime Garcia Jerseys, Yankees 2,793
3. Marcus Stroman Jerseys, Blue Jays 2,745
4. Brad Peacock Jerseys, Astros 2,665
Highest Strikeouts Per 9 IP Rate, AL Pitchers (Min. 120 IP)
1. Chris Sale Jerseys, Red Sox 12.83
2. Corey Kluber Jerseys, Indians 11.84
3. Brad Peacock Jerseys, Astros 11.38
Peacock is not going to win a game by himself. He’s the classic modern starter: spin the tar out of the baseball for five innings and get out of there. His numbers facing hitters the third time around as a starter are scary (.342/.432/.618), but those are irrelevant in October.
Houston’s bullpen (an MLB-worst 7.99 strikeout-per-nine rate in September) could be problematic, but remember that with the surfeit of off days in the postseason, managers can rely on the same three or four arms. Hinch showed last week in Anaheim how he will use closer Ken Giles Jerseys: He brought him into the eighth inning against the Angels because the top of the order was due up. Multiple-inning option Chris Devenski Jerseys, the most important arm in the pen, pitched the ninth. In the postseason, Hinch said, “I could use [Giles] multiple innings, just go all Kenley Jansen Jerseys with him.”
The Astros lack a true lefty specialist, though famously streaky Francisco Liriano Jerseys is getting such a tryout here in the final weeks. Houston has learned not to have Liriano aim for corners—his command isn’t nearly as good as his stuff—and now positions its catcher over the center of the plate and just tells Liriano to get it over and let it move.
Will Harris Jerseys needs his cutter to behave again, and McHugh, Charlie Morton Jerseys and Joe Musgrove Jerseys, with 47 starts among them, all could fortify the pen.
As it turned out, the season turned twice for Houston, once when Luhnow wasted hours trying to get Zach Britton Jerseys from Baltimore and didn’t find an elite starter (the disheartened club went 10–17 on the bad news), and again when Luhnow ponied up three prospects for Verlander (beginning that day, the revived team is 12–5).
The Verlander deal came oh-so-close to never happening. Verlander, with his 10-and-5 rights, preferred to be traded to Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. But Detroit GM Al Avila was rebuffed by the Dodgers and Yankees for what they said were monetary reasons. (The Dodgers said they would be too penalized by the new CBA tax, and the Yankees said they simply didn’t have room in their budget, upon which an astonished Avila blurted aloud, “The Yankees don’t have money for Justin Verlander Jerseys?”)
The Cubs were interested, but Avila got nowhere asking for a package that included outfielder Albert Almora Jr. and catcher Victor Caratini. Chicago loved the metrics on how Verlander is throwing today but gulped at paying him $56 million over the next two seasons at ages 35 and 36 while already on the hook for $55 million for the age-34 and -35 seasons of Jon Lester Jerseys. Giving up major league ready talent and taking on that kind of money chilled the talks.
At the Aug. 31 trade deadline, upon seeing that Tigers teammate Justin Upton Jerseys was traded to the Angels that afternoon, Verlander texted Avila. “As a competitor, you always think your team is about to turn things around,” Verlander said. “But when they traded J-Up, it was different all of a sudden. I had to ask, ‘What’s this mean for me? Where are we going?’”
Avila sent word to Verlander that he didn’t expect anything to happen. He also sent the same message to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who promptly went to bed. Then, a bit after 10:30 PM, just after McHugh couldn’t get through five innings in Texas, and the day after Kuechel gave up six runs, Luhnow called Avila. He wanted Verlander. He needed Verlander. What would it take? The two executives started kicking around names. Fifty minutes later, Avila called Verlander.

Verlander told me this was the first time he thought seriously about whether to accept a trade to Houston. I told him I found that hard to believe, given the rumors that were in play for weeks. He assured me it was true. “Think about it. If I start thinking about the possibilities, about whether I would go here or there, then I’m not devoting my energies and the best of what I have to the Detroit Tigers Jerseys,” he said. “And really, that’s the only way I know how to go about things. It would have been a disservice to my team and my teammates to be pitching for the Tigers and my mind is racing about pitching somewhere else. “What was crazy, though, was cheap jersey a couple of times I had dreams about it, actual dreams, about pitching here [in Houston]. And then I’d wake up.

“It was a lot harder decision than you expect. It was 11:20 or something, and now I have to make this major life decision and I have to make it quickly. I can’t sleep on it. They need an answer in a hurry.” Avila, working out of his home in suburban Detroit, dispatched a couple of baseball operations staffers to Verlander’s house, about 15 minutes away, with the paperwork to waive his 10-and-5 rights to block a trade. The clock kept ticking. Verlander talked it over with his fiancee, Kate Upton. What was best for him? What was best for the both of them?

The Justin Upton Jerseys trade had sent Verlander an unmistakable signal. The Tigers were going into full rebuild mode. Verlander had two more years left on his contract. Detroit was unlikely to put a contender together that quickly. Houston, he knew, was headed to the postseason this year. Much of the core of the team remained under control for at least the next two years: Altuve, Correa, George Springer Jerseys, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick Jerseys, Giles, Devenski, McCullers. Avila could try to shop him again in the winter, but because the Dodgers and Yankees showed no interest, there was no reason to expect an option better than Houston would emerge.

Verlander said yes, just before the midnight deadline for postseason roster eligibility. When did he sign the papers? “At 11:59:59,” he said. “No joke. This is the right place for me. And so far it’s been great. It’s been easy to fit in. Actually, it helped that I joined them on the road, because I know all the road clubhouses and places. It was after the first game of a doubleheader and I just jumped into the [handshake] line. “The guys in the clubhouse are tremendous and [owner] Jim Crane has gone out of his way to make us feel welcome.”

Crane bought the team in 2011, when the Astros began consecutive seasons of horrid play in which losses piled up like the heat in Phoenix in midsummer: 106, 107, 111, 92. On their way to 111 losses in 2013, stuck in a 15-game losing streak and saddled with a financially-troubled regional television package, the Astros played a game against the Indians that drew a local rating of 0.0, which meant nobody in a Nielsen-monitored home was watching their Major League team—nobody. Four years later, an Astros-Indians game might be an epic ALCS battle.
Now the Astros have their first division title since 2001, their best attendance in nine years, their highest payroll ever ($130 million), a 14% increase in local TV ratings from last year, the swagger of adding an ace like Verlander, and the responsibility and motivation to help heal a region reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Just last week, three tractor-trailers filled with food, clothing and supplies arrived in Houston from New Britain, Conn., where Springer, his parents and his sisters organized a relief drive for hurricane victims. Springer is the emotional centerfielder who, after crossing home plate with his 30th homer (which happened to come in the Astros’ first post-hurricane home game), pounded the “Houston Strong” patch on his chest and saluted the fans.
It’s not a stretch to say the Astros are playing with purpose, not unlike the Red Sox of 2013. This is their home. About 15% of Astros’ employees were directly impacted by the hurricane. When you drive from the airport to downtown, on the side of neighborhood streets, you still see what lives turned upside down in an instant look like: small mountain ranges of furniture, clothing, carpeting and possessions still waiting for the overwhelmed sanitation trucks to remove the ruin. Maybe baseball is a small diversion against the backdrop of tremendous hardship for so many. And maybe the postseason is the chance for that diversion to become something bigger.