The Houston Astros, who finished the season below .500 after a massive cheating scandal, have reached the ALCS after a division series victory at the site of their now-tainted 2017 World Series: Dodger Stadium.
In a surreal season, that sequence of events still manages to stand out. It even has the interest of Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who was asked about the Astros’ success this year and the clear edge they have displayed amid their run.
"Like, I get that it's been a difficult year for them, but to play the victim card, I think has been, you know, a curious strategy." 2/2— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 9, 2020
Friedman has played off '17 bitterness by saying there's "zero upside" in thinking about it because it won't change. But bitterness remains.
That “victim’s card” line could refer to any number of things the Astros have said and done since their cheating in the 2017 season was exposed, but the most notable recent example came after the team’s win in the wild-card series, in which shortstop Carlos Correa said this:
"I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don't want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?"
That line essentially captures the Astros’ post-scandal attitude, formed amid hatred from pretty much every other fanbase.
The Astros cheated, people got mad at them, people wanted to see them fail, but the Astros are still good enough to be a threat in a wide-open MLB season. The best way to forge ahead was always going to be ignoring that first part and focusing on the latter three, fighting a battle with no regard for the motivation of their “opponent.”
The “everyone is against us” philosophy is well-precedented in sports. Many a team has utilized it, particularly to keep their edge after past success. Coaches convince players everyone expects them to fail, players convince themselves that haters counted them out.
However, the strategy takes on a more sinister aura when the hatred is for reasons other than past success. And the Astros have no shortage of reasons. There was the team’s cheating, its attempts to smear a reporter for accurately reporting a confrontation that reflected badly on them, its acquisition of a player facing a domestic violence suspension for pennies on the dollar, its player’s racist gesture in the 2017 World Series, the list goes on.
But the Astros have still forged ahead, because they have never been incentivized to look backwards. That might be a curious look, but it’s consistent with the organizational philosophy that got them here.
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