MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Astros, Houston have reason to celebrate

Franchise rides youth movement back into postseason

Astros, Houston have reason to celebrate

HOUSTON -- In the midst of the last offseason, in an effort to keep Astros fans excited as the franchise took another step in a major rebuilding process, the marketing department put together plans for a Legends Weekend promotion to honor the 2005 Astros team, the last time the franchise had advanced to the postseason and the only time it has played in a World Series.

Talk about timing.

By the time the event was actually held on Aug. 14-15, there was a lot more to excite fans.

Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 HOU 5, KC 2
Gm 2 Oct. 9 KC 5, HOU 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 HOU 4, KC 2
Gm 4 Oct. 12 KC 9, HOU 6
Gm 5 Oct. 14 KC 7, HOU 2

The future had suddenly started to look pretty good, too.

Shop for Astros postseason gear

The Astros were, after all, in first place in the American League West at the time. And in looking back at the good times, current Astros manager A.J. Hinch couldn't help but think about what could happen this October.

"We had that celebration during the summer and that felt pretty good and I told Phil Garner [Astros manager from 2004-07] that day I didn't just want to celebrate 2005, I wanted to celebrate 2015, too,'' said Hinch on Saturday.

He can.

Thanks to their ability to handle the challenges on the road in the past two weeks, the Astros are back at Minute Maid Park. On Sunday afternoon they will host the Kansas City Royals in Game 3 of the AL Division Series (live on MLB Network at 4 p.m. ET), the first postseason game to be played in Houston since Oct. 26, 2005, when the White Sox pulled out a 1-0 victory to complete their four-game sweep of the Astros in the 2005 World Series.

Hinch talks ALDS Game 3

"To be able to bring a playoff team home in front of these fans feels great,'' said Hinch. "When we started out in Spring Training, there weren't a lot of people pegging us as being here, playing playoff games. … This has been a great run, and we have earned it."

It didn't come easy. While the Astros were definitely in the postseason mix since the opening days of the season, it took until the final day of the season to clinch the final Wild Card in the AL.

"Nobody outside this clubhouse thought we had a chance," Hinch said in the postseason clinching celebration last Sunday, following Game 162. "They said a lot of things about this team, right? One thing they are going to say forever is that we are a playoff team."

That's a mouthful in light of the fact the Astros had lost 416 games the past four seasons. Only six other teams in history have advanced to the postseason within two years of a 100-loss season. And the Astros didn't merely lose 100 games two years ago, they lost a franchise-record 111 games in 2013, the third year of a stretch in which the Astros experienced the only three 100-loss seasons in franchise history.

"It took a lot of patience," said Jeff Luhnow, who became the general manager in the aftermath of that first 100-plus-loss season in 2011. "But last year we had a 19 [win] improvement and we felt the club was moving in the right direction."

But a postseason berth? Another 16-win improvement from 2014 to 2015?

"We felt if [this year] was similar [to 2014], we'd have a winning club, and once you are there, you have the chance to compete. And we felt we had that nucleus. That's why we went out and added the pieces."

It's why they made deals to add third baseman Luis Valbuena from the Cubs and catcher Hank Conger from the Angels. It's why they signed one-year free-agent deals with infielder Jed Lowrie ($6 million with a $1 million buyout on another $6 million in 2016) and outfielder Colby Rasmus ($8 million). It's why they agreed to three-year deals for relievers Luke Gregerson ($18.5 million) and Pat Neshek ($18.5 million) as well as putting in a waiver claim for reliever Will Harris.

It's why, in July, when the hope was becoming reality, Luhnow swung deals to acquire right-hander Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez from the Brewers and left-hander Scott Kazmir from Oakland.

And all those moves, in addition to the foundation already in place, are why the Astros are enjoying that first postseason appearance in 10 years, the 10th in the franchise's 54-year existence.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.