World Series Takeaways: Unheralded arms lead Astros to first ever title

Charlie Morton. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Four years after losing 111 games, the Houston Astros are World Series champions.

Led by George Springer and a collection of mostly unheralded arms, the Astros won Game 7 to clinch the World Series, the first in the 56-year history of the Houston franchise. Meanwhile, the wait for another title continues for the Los Angeles Dodgers despite some stellar relief pitching of their own.

Even if Game 7 wasn’t quite on the level of Game 5 or even Game 2, it still included plenty of memorable moments. Here are some observations from the final game of an epic World Series.

By some definitions, Houston relied heavily on their bullpen Wednesday. Their starter, Lance McCullers Jr., was pulled after just 49 pitches and 2.1 innings.

But in another way, the Astros didn’t rely heavily on their bullpen at all. Of the 27 outs they recorded in Game 7, only two were obtained by pitchers who were primarily used as relievers during the regular season (Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski each retired one hitter). The other 25 outs came from starters: first McCullers, then Brad Peacock, then Charlie Morton, who closed the game out with four dominant innings.

The unusual approach allowed Astros manager A.J. Hinch to avoid a struggling bullpen and silence a talented Dodgers lineup.

After Yu Darvish struggled early, Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers four shutout innings while pitching on just two days’ rest.

It won’t erase the frustration of Kershaw’s Game 5 struggles, and as epic relief appearances go it doesn’t quite reach the level of Madison Bumgarner in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Still, it was an impressive performance in a crucial game, a convincing counterpoint to the idea that the playoffs somehow don’t agree with the game’s best pitcher.

Darvish, meanwhile, ends his season with a pair of disappointing World Series starts. The right-hander, who officially becomes a free agent Thursday morning, didn’t escape the second inning in either outing against Houston. That’d be disappointing under any circumstances, and it’s especially vexing for a team that surrendered a well-regarded prospect in the hopes that Darvish could contribute in these big moments.

(Predictably, some are saying the Dodgers should have started Kershaw. I disagree with that line of thinking. The Dodgers had little reason to expect a pitcher as talented as Darvish to struggle so badly and with Kershaw on just two days’ rest, he was better suited for a relief outing.)

George Springer picked the perfect time to homer in four consecutive games. All told, Springer’s second-inning homer was his fifth of the series, tying Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009) for the most homers ever hit in a World Series.

Springer’s final batting line: .379/.471/1.000 with five home runs. Just as Sports Illustrated predicted 3 1/2 years ago…

Brandon Morrow pitched seemingly every day this October, so it’s easy to forget that he made his post-season debut less than a month ago. Prior to this year Morrow had spent his entire 10-year career with Mariners, Blue Jays and Padres teams that missed the playoffs.

On Wednesday, he became the second pitcher in MLB history to pitch in all seven games of a World Series, joining Darold Knowles of the 1973 Athletics.

This is the Astros’ moment. Their championship was years in the making and it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating even if Houston never comes close to replicating it.

Here’s the scary thing for the Astros’ division rivals, though. None of Houston’s best players are slated to hit free agency this winter, and most are controllable for at least two years. Aside from Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel, who will be eligible for free agency a year from now, most Astros stars are Houston property for at least two seasons.

Through 2019: Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve
Through 2020: George Springer, Yulieski Gurriel, Ken Giles
Through 2021: Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Chris Devenski
Through 2022: Alex Bregman

For that matter, the Dodgers are in great shape, too. Even though Darvish hits free agency this winter and Kershaw can do the same next year, many of their most productive teammates are under control for years.

Through 2019: Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig
Through 2020: Justin Turner, Joc Pederson
Through 2021: Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor
Through 2023: Kenta Maeda, Cody Bellinger

We can’t just assume that these players will replicate their current production indefinitely. Last year’s Cubs looked like a dynasty before regressing in 2017, after all. But the Astros and Dodgers appear to be as well-positioned as anyone to return to the World Series in the near future.

Now that the Astros have won a World Series, only seven franchises are still awaiting their first title: the Rangers, Nationals, Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rockies and Rays.

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