George Springer and the Astros are facing something of an uncertain future. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer hit a home run — and celebrated enthusiastically as usual. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker and Jim Crane will be leading the Houston Astros into a new uncertain era. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer is back making things happen for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer is the one who starts things for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance Berkman interviews George Springer at the 10th annual Breakfast for Champions benefiting SpringSpirit. (Photo by Caroline Fontenot)
Zack Greinke will sometimes tell hitters what is coming. They still have trouble hitting it. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Charlise & George Springer (Jacob Power Photo)
George Springer is a game changer who recognizes Jose Altuve's unique gift. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is somehow still often dominant with a diminished velocity. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer knows that to seize the moment you have to take time to enjoy it. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jim Crane (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer makes the Astros' world a much more fun, interesting place. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
No one in the Houston Astros organization really wants to think about it, but George Springer could be playing his final games at Minute Maid Park as an Astro this weekend. If that ends up being the case, what a sad, depressing, surreal and largely soundless ending it will be.
Of all the Houston disappointments and sports injustices of this coronavirus MLB season, Springer going out as an Astro without any fans in the stands might top them all.
Springer, a free agent to be, could still return. Maybe, Astros owner Jim Crane will decide that a 31-year-old centerfielder who has done nothing but produce in the clutch, put his body on the line and represent the franchise with absolute class is indispensable. Maybe, baseball’s coronavirus free agent market will put Springer more within the Astros reach.
But George Springer returning is anything but a certainty. While Mookie Betts’ 12-year, $365 million extension may be an outlier for a generational 27-year-old talent, it shows that some MLB franchises will always spend big money for stars.
Amidst this uncertain backdrop, Springer and the Astros play their final home games at Minute Maid this season. Without the roar of the crowd that could help revitalize them. Without Springer receiving the constant, clamorous love he no doubt would be if this was a normal season. Astros fans would be pleading for their guy to return, trying to show Springer just how much he’s appreciated every time he steps to the plate in any other season.
The ovations would be thunderous. Instead, if anything, Minute Maid Park seems to be getting even quieter as this September marches on. The Astros dugout certainly is.
In losing to 6-3 to a last-place Arizona Diamondbacks team on Friday night, the Astros (25-26) look like a battered, beaten down, injured team. Springer is still hitting. Like he always does when it counts most. His 11th home run of this short season ties the game at 3 in the fifth inning. Springer now has six home runs, two doubles and a triple in his last 16 games.
While the Astros may look like they’re stumbling to the end of the regular season, Springer is playing like. . . well, George Springer again.
“I think we just need to string together some innings,” Springer says. “We’ve left some guys on base. When you don’t get it done, it is a little deflating. But again, it’s very hard to do. We just have to try and capitalize on our opportunities. And we’ll see what happens.”
Springer is a prime driving force behind this Astros’ mini dynasty (with a world championship, a second World Series appearance in three years and 311 wins in the last three full baseball seasons, this Houston run certainly qualifies with the realities of baseball today). The Astros just aren’t the Astros without George Springer.
He is the first prospect who really gave Astros fans hope, predating even Jeff Luhnow. He is the guy who graced that famous Sports Illustrated cover, forecasting an Astros renaissance and that 2017 title. He is the World Series MVP, the force who came through in the greatest Houston sports moment since Rudy Tomjanovich‘s Clutch City Rockets.
Nothing that happens in the coming weeks — or the weird offseason to come — will change how Astros fans feel about George Springer.
He has built a lifetime of good will in Houston. Astros fans will not be able to show Springer that love in these next two games at Minute Maid, maybe the last games for him as an Astro in the park where he’s hit so many big home runs. Made so many big catches while slamming into the green walls.
Springer’s Last Stand?
Springer will try to push an Astros team that seems to be running on fumes into MLB’s supersized 2020 playoffs. The ace is out. The closer is gone. Wonder slugger Yordan Alvarez could only give the team one magical home run in 2020. Fox 26 media legend Mark Berman may be the only man in Houston who still thinks Justin Verlander is coming back to pitch this season.
“You’ve got to go with the guys that have been there,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says when. asked about the possibility of shaking up the lineup. “You’ve got to go with the guys that got you here. I mean you can shake up the lineup all you want. It’s a daily game. Tomorrow could be totally different.
“You’ve got to go with your core guys. You have to.”
The reinforcements are not coming. These 2020 Astros will go with what they have. Which means a lot of Springer as usual. For at least two more games at Minute Maid — and then wherever the road takes this team from there — No. 4 will bat leadoff and man center field.
As it should be. At least that will feel right about these Houston Astros.