The World Series Champions of 2016, the Chicago Cubs affected the Houston Astros much more than people realize. The blueprint that the Cubs used to solidify themselves as a champion was studied and used by the Astros for the 2017 season. Many similarities can be seen when comparing the two teams and how they were constructed and in this article, I will highlight those similarities.
Much like the Chicago Cubs, the Houston Astros are a team whose core is centered around younger players who happen to be stars. Both teams have drafted incredibly well over the past few years and it has shown. Many of the big names on both teams are young, but produce at a high clip offensively and defensively for their teams. Take the bats of Anthony Rizzo for the Cubs and George Springer for the Astros for example. These two players are both under the age of 28, yet for the last couple of seasons have been pivotal parts of their team’s lineups. These two players highlight exactly what I mean when I say young core and are just an example for each team. Take a look at the similarities between the two teams below:
The Cubs Young Core for the 2016 Championship Season:
- Javier Baez was 23 and playing in his 3rd season
- Kris Bryant was 24 and playing in his 2nd season
- Wilson Contreras was 24 and a rookie in 2016
- Addison Russell was 22 and playing in his 2nd season
- Kyle Schwarber was 23 and playing in his 2nd season
- Anthony Rizzo was 26 and playing in his 6th season
Now compare that to:
The Astros Young Core for the 2017 Season:
- Carlos Correa is 22 and playing in his 3rd season
- George Springer is 27 and playing in his 4th season
- Alex Bregman is 23 and playing in his 2nd season
- Jose Altuve is 27 and playing in his 7th season
- Lance McCullers is 23 and playing in his 3rd season
- Ken Giles is 26 and playing in his 4th season
As you can tell there are very similar cores that we are talking about between these two teams. These franchises have a group of young players who they use heavily and build the rest of their team around them. With such a large amount of young players starting day in and day out, the Astros took a page straight from the Chicago Cubs’ blueprint of 2016. The Astros understood after losing to the Royals in the 2015 playoffs, that postseason inexperience was a huge contributing factor to the series. Then after not achieving the team’s projection of making the playoffs in 2016, something needed to change if they were going to get to the next level. That change would come with bringing in experienced veterans who understood how important leadership and experience is.
Acquisitions for the 2016 Cubs:
- Free Agent (FA) signing of 35-year-old Ben Zobrist for his 11th season
- FA signing of 37-year-old John Lackey for his 14th season
- FA signing of 26-year-old Jason Heyward for his 7th season
- Traded for 30-year-old Dexter Fowler for his 9th season
*They also signed both John Lester a veteran pitcher (32 in 2016) and David Ross a veteran catcher in 2014 (39 in 2016)
Now compare that to:
The Acquisitions for the 2017 Astros:
- FA signing of 40-year-old Carlos Beltran for his 20th season
- FA signing of 30-year-old Josh Reddick for his 9th season
- FA signing of 33-year-old Charlie Morton for his 10th season
- FA signing of 35-year-old Norichika Aoki for his 6th season in the MLB but his 14th season of pro baseball
- Traded for 33-year-old Brian McCann for his 13th season
Once again you can see the almost mirror images between the two teams. Both teams added at least one veteran starting pitcher, 2 outfielders, and a veteran catcher. The addition of a veteran starting pitcher helps aid young pitchers such as Kyle Hendricks for the Cubs and Lance McCullers for the Astros. On top of those additions, each team brought in an established catcher, a position in which many baseball minds consider the most important position on the field. The cerebral minds of a player like McCann or Ross help bring a coach onto the field essentially and more importantly can help keep a pitchers head in the game by controlling how the game is being called. This is crucial to the success of a pitcher, especially during a long postseason run. Additions like Reddick and Heyward bring in younger veterans who have played many seasons in the league with a couple of teams. Their experiences in different clubhouses allows them to better understand how key aspects such as locker room camaraderie is vital to a team’s long-term success. Reddick is a perfect example of this mindset as within the first month of the 2017 MLB season, he bought the Astros team a “player of the game” title belt to wear. It may seem funny or corny but to the team, it was a fun way to enjoy performing well, as they all wanted to be able to wear the belt around the locker room after the game. It has become a running gag joke for the team as the season has gone on, and a way to build a playful yet locked in environment for the clubhouse.
For me, the most important aspect of the 2016 Cubs, was the incredible depth that the team had. They had players such as Zobrist who played 5 different positions for them, which was essential for the many different amounts of lineups they were able to field throughout the season. The Astros do the same thing with Marwin Gonzalez, in the 2017 season alone he has played 6 different positions. In the AL this is slightly a bigger advantage compared to the NL. The designated hitter rule in the AL allows AJ Hinch to give a player, such as Altuve, an occasional break by starting him at DH and putting Marwin at 2nd. This advantage helps give players a break from most of the game, as he doesn’t have to bother with playing the field but only the batting aspect of the game. This is significant for a player’s body as the break helps alleviate the wear and tear their body will take over the grind of a full 162 game season. The depth of the Cubs played a huge role in their championship as each day almost a different player was taking a night off which in turn aided their performances in the postseason.
The Cubs # of different lineups in 2016: 101
The Astros # of different lineups in 2017: 52*
* only 83 games played so far in the 2017 season
The blueprint of a young core of stars, veteran leadership and a great amount of depth helped facilitate the 2016 championship for the Cubs. As this article portrays, the Astros are on a very similar path in the 2017 campaign. Will the blueprint have the same outcome for the Astros and their World Series ambitions? Only time will tell but this fan is certainly hopeful for the same result.