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Surprising Astros have playoff run to build on for 2016 season

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astros weren’t even thought by most to be a postseason contender this year.

That’s little consolation in the wake of their elimination by the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the American League division series.

“It’s going to leave a sour taste for a very long time,” ace Dallas Keuchel said. “Next year can’t come soon enough.”

The Astros were six outs from a trip to the AL Championship Series on Sunday with a three-run lead entering the eighth inning before the Royals used a shaky bullpen and a costly error to score five runs and rally for the 9-6 victory. Houston was ahead by two runs early on Wednesday night before Johnny Cueto shut down the Astros in the Royals’ series-ending 7-2 win.

“Our guys [Wednesday]night had the right balance of pride and disappointment,” first-year manager A.J. Hinch said. “Very proud of what we did, what we accomplished, how we came together as a team … but yet hungry enough to be devastated that the season came to an end.”

Houston made the playoffs for the first time since a trip to the World Series in 2005. The Astros’ rise to contender status this season came just two years after they lost a franchise-worst 111 games as part of three consecutive 100-loss seasons.

“We made baseball a topic of conversation in October in the state of Texas and that’s not easy to do,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

They made the turnaround thanks to the development of a crop of young talent highlighted by shortstop Carlos Correa, the top overall pick in 2012 who they expect to the be cornerstone of the franchise for years to come.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” Correa said. “Nobody expected us to be here. And we accomplished a lot this year … the future is bright and we’re looking forward to next season.”

Polished beyond his years Correa, who turned 21 on Sept. 22, was called up in June and set a franchise record for home runs by a rookie with 22, the most by an AL rookie and the most by a shortstop in the majors. He had 68 RBIs, 45 extra-base hits and 22 doubles.

“The story of Carlos Correa is still early,” Luhnow said. “This is the second chapter of a long book, so it’s going to be fun for our fans to watch him and other young players develop.”

All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve reached 200 hits for the second straight season and led the AL. He topped the Astros with .313 average, was first in the AL with 38 stolen bases and had 40 doubles and 66 RBIs.

The Astros also got a solid season by outfielder George Springer, who hit .276 with 16 homers, 41 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in his second season despite missing two months with a broken wrist.

“We kind of raised the bar for Astros’ baseball for sure and earned the respect of a lot of people, who didn’t believe in us before,” Springer said.

TAL’S HILL RENOVATION AT MMP POSTPONED

HOUSTON (AP) — The Astros have postponed a planned renovation of center field at Minute Maid Park that would have removed Tal’s Hill and shortened the distance from the plate from 436 to 409 feet.

Team president Reid Ryan says that the Astros still plan for the renovations eventually but the construction timelines in the bidding process made clear the project could not be finished by next year’s home opener.

Houston’s center field is the deepest in the majors, and the $15 million renovation the team announced in June would have made it the sixth-deepest in the majors.