Sure, the Astros clearly had depth and talent, but winning the AL West championship -- opening up a 10-game lead by the end of May -- wasn't a cakewalk. That's where Astros manager A.J. Hinch comes into the picture.
Hinch, one of three finalists for the AL Manager of the Year Award, led the Astros to 101 wins, which were the second most in the AL. Of course, the Astros went on to win the World Series, but the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting for AL Manager of the Year doesn't take postseason performance into consideration.
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The Astros entered 2017 with high expectations and were sitting at 4-4 after the first week of the season. Fans grumbled about Hinch and hitting coach Dave Hudgens. They wanted Correa moved down in the lineup; they wanted Alex Bregman sent to the Minors. Hinch never lost confidence in his team, a theme which carried throughout the season.
The Astros took off and were 42-16 in early June when injuries mounted. Morton had gone on the DL on May 27 and would remain there until late July. Keuchel, who was pitching at a Cy Young level for the first two months of the season, was placed on the disabled list on June 5 and missed the next six weeks with a neck injury. McCullers went on the shelf four days after Keuchel. Correa was lost in mid-July and didn't come back until September. All were key players, but Hinch managed to piece together the lineup and keep the Astros moving forward.
That changed in August. After not making an impact deal before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline -- and having Keuchel say publicly he was disappointed -- the Astros sputtered in August, going 11-17. The division title wasn't in question, but there was a malaise around the team that could have spelled doom for the Astros down the stretch.
Then came Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the city and forced the Astros to move a home series against the Rangers to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. When the team finally returned to Houston a few days later, Hinch led a group of players to a shelter to volunteer. The next day, he took the microphone at Minute Maid Park and praised the city for its resilience.
A few days later, Hinch helped convince Justin Verlander to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros for the final month of the season. The trade put wind in Houston's sails, and Verlander was untouchable after joining the club. Correa and Keuchel got healthy, and the Astros took off. The manager who never lost faith, who never wavered in his belief in his team, led the Astros to their first division title in 16 years.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.