If you’ve been waiting for this for the past twelve years, congratulations. You’ve endured a lot since the last time the Houston Astros were in the World Series. A 4-0 sweep that year against the Chicago White Sox; a ten-year playoff drought; six consecutive sub-.500 seasons; a brutal top of the eighth inning in the 2015 ALDS; and, you know, that hurricane. If you were one of the statistically-possible-that-you-exist Houstonians who tuned in on the day in the fall of 2013 when the Astros’ game drew a 0.00 rating, seriously—you deserve this.
For the rest of us, though, all of that heartbreak is somebody else’s problem. Get on the happy bus—we’re going to the beach! Whether you’re a disheartened fan of a team that didn’t make it (RIP, 2017 Cubs season!) looking for a final fling for the World Series, or a Texan who doesn’t typically follow baseball but is eager to cheer along with your friends, the Astros bandwagon looks pretty enticing right now. Here’s a comprehensive FAQ on how to fake your way through the World Series and Astros fandom over the next four to seven games of triumph and/or heartache. And if you’re a baseball neophyte, worry not—we’ll start at the very beginning.
So, uh, what exactly is the World Series?
It’s the Major League Baseball championship. Unlike the Super Bowl, or the College Football Playoff, it’s not settled in a single-elimination, winner-takes-all-the-marbles three hours. Rather, it’s a best-of-seven series that will see the Houston Astros play the Los Angeles Dodgers until either team wins a total of four games.
Who are the Dodgers?
The short answer is that they’re the best team in baseball right now, at least for the bulk of the 2017 season. This year, they had the best record, and at times were on pace to be historically dominant. The Dodgers backslid a bit toward the end of the season, but then came on strong as heck in the postseason, winning seven of the eight games they’ve played so far without breaking much of a sweat. If you’re looking for a David vs. Goliath story, the Dodgers are definitely a worthy Goliath.
Where do they play it?
The first two games are in Los Angeles, because the Dodgers had the better record of the two teams during the regular season. Note that this is a change in how MLB did things over the past fifteen years, when it had the absolutely bizarre rule that the team representing either the National League or the American League would play first, depending on which league won the summer All-Star Game. (If it still worked that way, it would be opening in Houston.) After the first two games, the teams will head to Houston for the next three. If there are games left to play after that, the series goes back to L.A.
So are the Astros gonna get killed?
Maybe! That’s baseball. It’s also the history of the Astros. They’ve never won the World Series, and their only previous appearance, in 2005, was a brutal beating from the Chicago White Sox. They are definitely the underdog going into this season, and anybody who’s followed Houston sports for the past couple decades is probably psychologically prepared to have their heart broken this week—the last time a Houston team’s season didn’t end in defeat was the 1995 Rockets championship (they play basketball). Statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Dodgers a 55% chance of winning the World Series. The bookies agree. The Dodgers are a better team on paper, and they’re well-rested: The Astros are coming off of a nail-biting seven game series against the New York Yankees, while the Dodgers quickly bumped off the Cubs in five games to secure their World Series spot almost a week ago.
Don’t give up yet, though! If the Houston fans in your life are biting their nails to the nubs and you want something to cheer them up, it’s worth reminding them that this is likely to be a close series. The Astros’ starting pitching rotation is almost as good as that of the Dodgers, and the Houston team’s biggest stars—Dallas Kuechel and Justin Verlander—are well-rested, which means that they should be able to stand up to the Dodgers’ bats well in the two games in Los Angeles. The Astros’ own offense, meanwhile, is more potent than that of their opponents, so the fact that the Dodgers effectively cruised to the World Series doesn’t mean they’re going to cruise through it, too.
So who am I going to be cheering for?
You’ve already been introduced to Kuechel and Verlander. Dallas Kuechel is the Astros’ ace pitcher. He’s a local favorite, as he’s been with the Astros his whole career and emerged in recent seasons to become a star. You will know him by his great bushy beard. Verlander, meanwhile, is a wily veteran who’s been around the league for over a decade, but was a late acquisition to the Houston roster—he was just acquired at the end of August from the Detroit Tigers. Verlander has pitched in two World Series already, although he’s never won, so he might have a chip on his shoulder.
Neither of them are your new favorite player, though: That distinction goes to José Altuve, the diminutive second baseman for the Astros. Altuve is 5’6″, which makes him the shortest player in the game. But he’s a powerhouse behind the plate: He hit a whopping .346 during the regular season and knocked 24 home runs out of the park. Altuve is one of the most beloved guys in baseball right now, and for good reason: He’s tiny for the sport, he’s an outstanding player, and he makes playing baseball look like the most fun thing a person could possibly do on any given night. He’s also the sort of underdog that makes him really identifiable for Houstonians, who survived a hurricane six weeks ago and who rarely find themselves the winner at sports. Altuve worked his way up from Venezuela summer ball to playing minor league ball on tiny Appalachian teams to being the standout of his class with the Corpus Christi Hooks. Then he skipped AAA-minor league ball—the final tier before the pros—when his talent was recognized by the Astros with a $15,000 deal during his second tryout with the team. Watching José Altuve celebrate a World Series win would be one of the most delightful things America could experience in 2017, and that alone is a good reason to jump on this bandwagon right now.
Is there a weird way for me to show off my newfound Altuve fandom?
Is there ever! Try HowManyAltuves.com, a web calculator that converts any distance into how many José Altuves it would be, if you were to stack them head to toe on top of one another. The first time you see him belt a homer this series, don’t just talk about how many feet he hit it, talk about how many Altuves far it was and be the life of the party!
Thanks for that?
Hey, this is baseball—it’s America’s weirdest sport. If you’re not a full-time baseball fan, don’t worry about it. They play 162 games every year (and that’s just the regular season), so only retirees and the truly obsessed follow the sport as fervently as a game like football, where full-time fandom requires a mere sixteen-game commitment. What’s more, jumping onto the Astros bandwagon this year is going to be a popular activity, especially if the team manages to steal even one win against the Dodgers in the first two games in Los Angeles. They’ve got Altuve, who is primed to be America’s baseball sweetheart, and they’ve got all of the #HoustonStrong goodwill in the aftermath of Harvey, which makes America want to root for them. The team is an underdog from a city of perpetual underdogs, and they’ve got a real shot at pulling off the upset this year. There are no guarantees—the more dedicated Astros fans beside you at the bar could see the team take a twelve-run lead into the ninth inning and they’d still be fairly convinced that the team is going to find a way to blow it, based on historical precedent—but this is the best Astros team in years. There’s a batch of fun characters to root for, a compelling story, and a potential emotional arc that reminds us of why we care about sports in the first place. They’ve got a shot, and that’s all you can ever want from a game.