Posted on March 6, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros
Image via ocregister.com

One year after winning the 2017 World Series, the Houston Astros won 103 games, took home another AL West title, and advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Red Sox. But they certainly weren’t content with how the 2018 season ended. After the disappointment of losing to Boston, the Astros will be motivated to make another run at the World Series. Can Houston win their second title in three years or will they fall short in a competitive American League?

Rotation

Houston’s rotation had the lowest ERA in the majors last year, but they could have a tough time replicating that success in 2019. The good news is that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still around to lead the rotation. When those two are pitching at their best, they are arguably the best 1-2 punch in baseball. However, Dallas Keuchel was not re-signed and Lance McCullers Jr. will miss the season after elbow surgery. Without those two, the Houston rotation will definitely have a different look to it this season.

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In hopes of replacing Keuchel and McCullers, the Astros signed Wade Miley in free agency. Miley struggled throughout 2016 and 2017, but he was massive for the Brewers last season, posting a 2.57 ERA across 16 starts. Of course, it remains to be seen if he can repeat that kind of success. Houston will also look to Collin McHugh to fill a spot in the middle of their rotation. McHugh excelled in a bullpen role last season but was a reliable starter for several years prior to that, so the Astros should feel comfortable with him rejoining the rotation.

Finally, the Astros may look to Brad Peacock to be their fifth starter. Peacock has been better as a reliever than a starter in past seasons, but he should be a viable option until Houston’s younger starter start to establish themselves. The likes of Framber Valdez, Josh James, Cionel Perez, and Rogelio Armenteros are all on the radar and may be able to supplement Houston’s more established starters at some point in 2019. But it’s still doubtful that the Astros won’t feel the absence of both Keuchel and McCullers.

Bullpen

Houston’s bullpen went from being one of the worst in the majors in 2017 to being the best in 2018. Now the challenge is to maintain that same level in 2019. Roberto Osuna, who is still just 24, will continue in the closer’s role after coming over from Toronto in a trade last summer. The likes of Hector Rondon and Will Harris will continue in setup roles. Chris Devenski and Ryan Pressly also figure to be reliable members of the Houston bullpen.

Of course, the Astros won’t have McHugh and Peacock adding depth to their bullpen. Also, lefty Tony Sipp, who’s been an important part of the bullpen the past few seasons, hasn’t been re-signed. Veteran Joe Smith is set to miss the season due to an Achilles injury. While the back end of the bullpen is in good shape, the Astros could have some questions about their overall bullpen depth.

Lineup

A slew of injuries last season prevented the Astros from having the kind of explosive offense they did in 2017. However, Houston’s lineup still boasts plenty of potential. The core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman remains, as does George Springer and Josh Reddick in the outfield and Yuli Gurriel at first base. Bregman was actually the best of the bunch last season, as most everyone else had a down year compared to the 2017 campaign. However, the Astros still have a slew of proven players who are capable of having big years.

It’s worth noting that the Astros have lost some notable pieces from last season. The versatile Marwin Gonzalez is no longer in Houston. The Astros will also miss the power provided by catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis. Houston may not get much offense from the catcher position this season, at least until prospect Garrett Stubbs is ready. However, they did sign Michael Brantley, another all-star caliber player, to be their everyday left fielder. Tyler White will also get a chance to serve as the DH after an impressive second half in 2018. Top-prospect Kyle Tucker will also have a chance to contribute at some point this season.

Prediction

The Astros are still the team to beat in the AL West. There isn’t much debate about that. But there are reasons to think they may not be the dominant team they’ve been the last two seasons. Both the rotation and bullpen are not as deep as last season, and there are at least minor questions about the lineup, especially if they’re hit with injuries as they were last year. Look for the Astros to finish 96-66 in 2019. It’ll be a slight step back but still enough to get them into the postseason.

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