| March 17, 2018

Opinion: Underdog Days

October 23, 2017

This is the season diehard baseball fans wait for all year. The World Series is upon us.

For fans of just about any team in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho definitely included, underdog status is simply a way of life. If baseball fans in the region are having any hesitations about who to root for, the Houston Astros are the easy choice.

The Astros are the true underdog in the series, as the first line offered by Vegas oddsmakers listed the Los Angeles Dodgers as a -140 favorite. Bleacher Report, FiveThirtyEight and CBS Sports are all siding with the oddsmakers and predicting a Dodgers championship in their first World Series appearance since 1988.

Unlike most underdog stories though, the Astros are more than capable of pulling off an ‘upset.’ Houston dominated during the regular season, winning more than 100 games and maintaining the third highest run differential in the league. A midseason trade to acquire Justin Verlander bolstered their pitching staff, which now features two Cy Young winners in Verlander and Dallas Keuchel.

The narrative behind Houston’s rise is also a great reason to back the Astros. The team was a near-lock for 100 losses as recently as 2013. They were undeniably one of the worst teams in the MLB for the early part of the decade, but all those losing years translated into high draft picks that brought building blocks like shortstop Carlos Correa to the team. In 2013, Sports Illustrated recognized the plan that the Astros were putting together and predicted them to be the World Series champions in only four years. All of the pieces finally started to come together two years ago, as the team advanced to the divisional round but lost to the eventual champion Kansas City Royals.

This year’s team is young but experienced, and they have the pieces to compete.

Northwest sports fans will have a difficult time rooting for the Astros, who won nine of their 12 meetings with the Seattle Mariners, but they are a far lesser evil than Los Angeles. The Dodgers, despite their longer World Series drought, are a supremely hateable team. They spent $265 million on their roster, more than a full $100 million than the Astros. Rooting for the upstart Astros against the well-resourced Dodgers should come easy to Northwest baseball fans who are too familiar with underdog status.

There really isn’t much reason to not back the Astros in the 2017 World Series. The team is supremely talented, but still has a motivational chip on their shoulder. They could have shut down after the emotional trauma caused by Hurricane Harvey, but instead their resolve was strengthened en route to a 101-win season. They have accomplished as much as the Dodgers have while maintaining a below-league-average payroll. If you’re still unsure of which team to support in this year’s World Series, the Astros check all the boxes.

Jonah Baker can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @jonahpbaker

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