Now the whole country is finding out that these Astros are the real deal

One of the coolest things about seeing the Houston Astros on baseball’s biggest stage is that millions of others are discovering what those of us in Houston already knew.

These Astros are the real deal.

Yes, that energy is real. Yes, that enthusiasm is real. That talent is real, too.

In George Springer and Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, the Astros have players who are going to be stars for years to come. In Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus and a long list of others, the Astros have solid contributors.

Here’s how baseball people pay a player one of their ultimate compliments: They say a guy could be a contributor on a winning team. That’s Jason Castro and Chris Carter and Jake Marisnick and a whole bunch of others.

Marisnick may just stand head and shoulders above the others as an example of why Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and his staff are smarter than a lot of others.

The Astros do not know how much Marisnick will hit. They think he has a chance to hit, but they aren’t sure. However, from the moment they acquired him from the Marlins in the Jarred Cosart deal, the Astros believed his defense and base running would be so good that they could accept a little less offense.

In other words, they saw a greater whole than simply offense or batting average. They saw a guy capable of impacting games in a variety of ways.

And all those ways contribute to winning.

Anyway, the Astros aren’t a surprise anymore. Nor are they a fluke. Baseball’s landscape has changed so dramatically that the key thing is to be playing well at the right time of the year.

The Astros recovered from a terrible slide to win six of their final eight games of the regular season. Now they’re 2-0 in the postseason after victories over the Yankees and Royals.

They’ve got miles to go.

But with every victory, they become a bit more dangerous. This isn’t about confidence. When a team has won as much as the Astros have over the last six months, that confidence is there.

A.J. Hinch nursed it along brilliantly, first in Spring Training, later in the opening two months of the regular season. He simply refused to let other people’s expectations matter.

When a team spends 139 days in first place, there’s an inner-confidence that grows among the group. That’s what the Astros have.

Those five rookies aren’t seeing the world for the first time. They’re now comfortable. They now know that they belong.

Collin McHugh is another great example. The Astros got him on waivers. They saw him as a guy who could change speeds, command the strike zone and win.

If others focused on the fact that he didn’t throw 99 mph, that was their problem. In terms of pitching variables–velocity, location, movement–McHugh has two of three.

If the Astros get what they think they’re going to get from Scott Kazmir in Game 2, the baseball world may feel as if it’s been turned on its head.

McHugh gave the Astros six solid innings, and then four relievers finished up. Now the pressure is squarely on the Royals to win Game 2.

Otherwise, they’re facing an elimination game in Houston on Sunday. Dallas Keuchel will put his 15-0 home record on the line in that one.

The Astros went through so many peaks and valleys during the season, and they barely made the playoffs. But Hinch did a masterful job keeping them focused in one direction.

Near the end of the season, there were good signs. Springer was hitting. The bullpen was getting outs again. Jose Altuve was Jose Altuve. Chris Carter was hot, too.

Luhnow has done a fabulous job constructing this roster. Maybe the Astros have arrived a year ahead of time. Luhnow doesn’t agree with that, but still.

The Astros are a confident group at the moment. They’re young and talented, too. That’s a good combination to have in October.

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