What’s there to know about the Houston Astros?
They’re the best, that’s what there is to know.
The Astros are the defending world champions for a multitude of reasons, and it’s all those and more that will have them as a favorite to repeat in 2018. Yes, the Cubs and New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians will all have something to say about that. But right now, no team is better on paper than the team the just won the big enchilada not five months ago.
The best 1-2 starting-pitching in combo in baseball? It belongs to the Astros. Justin Verlander was sensational for them after coming over in a late-summer trade with the Detroit Tigers. All he did was post a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts and a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings. Justin Verlander. Again. And then there’s his running mate Dallas Keuchel — who doesn’t like the Cubs very much, apparently — has been just as good. He had a 2.90 ERA last year and won the American League Cy Young in 2015 with a 2.48 ERA and 20 wins.
Get past those guys and you’ll have to face the new guy. Gerrit Cole is now an Astro, as well, the reigning champs bolstering their already excellent rotation by importing one of the National League’s best pitchers. Cole saw his numbers jump last year (4.26 ERA) but still almost had 200 strikeouts and now has a much better roster around him than the one he left in Pittsburgh.
Charlie Morton? He threw four one-run innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Lance McCullers? He had 2.1 shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series. This rotation is a force that could mow down the AL. There are questions, sure, but this five is entering 2018 as the best collection of arms in the Junior Circuit.
And we haven’t even gotten to the hitting. Oh, the hitting! The Astros scored 34 runs in seven World Series games. They banged out 56 hits. They hit 15 home runs. This after they were baseball’s best offense during the regular season.
The names are obvious to anyone who watched the postseason. Jose Altuve, surely tired of all the short jokes, is arguably the best player in baseball, and he won the AL MVP last season with a ridiculous .346/.410/.547 slash line. Carlos Correa, perhaps baseball’s best young shortstop, had a .315/.391/.550 slash line. George Springer, your World Series MVP, hit 34 regular-season home runs and got on base at a .367 clip before hitting five homers and slashing .379/.471/.1.000 in the Fall Classic.
Then there’s Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who were all very good to great in 2017. They shouldn’t all be expected to do what they did last season — you need look no further than the Cubs to see what a deep World Series run can do to a team, especially early. But is there a better lineup than this in the AL? Anyone? Bueller?
It’s hard to repeat, and “hard” is becoming one heck of an understatement considering no one’s repeated in almost two decades. The Yankees last did it when they beat the broken-bat-throwing Mike Piazza and the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series. Since then, no one’s done it twice in a row.
Last year, most of us looked at the Cubs and said, “They have the best team, they are favorites to do it again.” And then they were not even in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. A similar fate could await the Astros. But right now, they look like the best team the AL has to offer.
Houston, you are clear for takeoff ... again.
2017 record: 101-61, first place in AL West, World Series champions
Offseason additions: Gerrit Cole, , Joe Smith, Hector Rondon
Offseason departures: Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Mike Fiers, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano
X-factor: The Astros now count one-time Cubs closer Hector Rondon among their relievers now, but the X-factor pick here is Bregman. After a fine but nothing special first half, he was one of baseball's best after the All-Star break last year, slashing .315/.367/.536 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.
1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Evan Gattis, DH
9. Derek Fisher, LF
1. Justin Verlander
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Gerrit Cole
4. Lance McCullers
5. Charlie Morton
Prediction: First place in AL West
Catch up on the AL:
Los Angeles Angels
Catch up on the NL:
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants