Posted on February 19, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros
Image via washingtonpost.com

It’s safe to say that no team in baseball had a worse offseason than the Houston Astros. Not only did they lose ace Gerrit Cole in free agency fresh off a loss in Game 7 of the World Series, but the Astros were also embroiled in a scandal that questions the legitimacy of the team’s recent success, including the 2017 World Series title. Alas, Dusty Baker has taken the reins as manager and is ready to help the Astros repair their image and compete for another championship. Can the Astros put all of the distractions aside and make another World Series run or will the new villains of baseball falter in 2020?

Rotation

As mentioned, the Astros will no longer have Cole at the top of their rotation. However, Houston’s rotation will still feature a pair of duel aces in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Keep in mind that Verlander was 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 34 starts last year, showing so signs of slowing down at age 36. Greinke was nearly as good while splitting the 2019 season between the Diamondbacks and Astros. In his 33 starts, Greinke was 18-5 with a 2.93 ERA. He will help fill the void left by Cole to give Houston two top-flight starters.

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The back half of Houston’s rotation has some question marks but isn’t lacking in potential. After missing 2019 because of Tommy John surgery, Lance McCullers Jr. should regain his spot in the middle of the rotation. He’ll be on an innings limit, but he also posted a 3.86 ERA in 2018, making him a strong no. 3 starter if he’s healthy. The Astros will also give Jose Urquidy a spot in their rotation after he was a revelation during the 2019 playoffs. Fellow youngster Framber Valdez will also get a chance to lock down a rotation spot, although he isn’t a proven commodity in the majors. If needed, Houston can move Brad Peacock into the rotation. He can stabilize the back-end of the rotation if the team’s young starters struggle. Otherwise, Peacock will be an asset out of the bullpen.

Bullpen

Speaking of the bullpen, Roberto Osuna remains in the closer’s role after racking up 38 saves last season. He has 154 saves under his belt at the age of 25 and is a good bet to continue to be one of the best closers in baseball this season. Meanwhile, Ryan Pressley is in line to be Houston’s top setup man. He had his issues during the postseason, but he’s been a reliable setup man the last two seasons, so he should be able to bounce back.

Even if Pressly falters, the Astros have other options. Veteran sidearmer Joe Smith is back after sitting out most of 2019 because of an Achilles injury. When he’s healthy, Smith is one of the most consistent relievers in baseball. Chris Devenski, Josh James, and Joe Biagini will also help form a bridge to Osuna and Pressly in the late innings. On paper, it’s not an elite bullpen, but it should be enough for the Astros to get by.

Lineup

Offensively, there will be questions about the Astros after it was discovered that they were stealing signs, which most believed helped them at the plate. However, they have largely the same personnel that has dominated the AL West in recent years. Alex Bregman was an MVP candidate last season and remains in the prime of his career. George Springer and Jose Altuve were nearly as good while Michael Brantley and Yuli Guriel add plenty of depth to Houston’s lineup. The Astros will also benefit from having Yordan Alvarez spend a full season in the DH spot after he hit 27 home runs in just 81 games as a rookie in 2019.

It’s worth noting that the Astros are going back to Martin Maldonado at catcher. He’ll be a downgrade from Robinson Chirinos offensively, even if he’s an improvement defensively. Josh Reddick’s production has also fallen off over the last two years, which could open the door for Kyle Tucker to get more playing time. Finally, depth could be an issue for the Astros if they suffer injuries to key players. Carlos Correa, in particular, has struggled to remain healthy over the last few years. Regardless of the controversy, the Astros will still score plenty of runs, although staying healthy will be vital to their success.

Prediction

After winning 107 games and the American League pennant in 2019, the Astros have more modest expectations in 2020. Houston’s over/under win total is set at 93.5 wins. There will surely be more competition from the other teams in the AL West than the last few years, and the loss of Cole will be felt. But the Astros are too good offensively not to at least flirt with the 100-win mark and go over the projection of 93.5 wins while likely winning another AL West title.

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