Prognosticators are out in full form as the baseball season is only a few days away. Some are predicting the Astros will win the AL West. Even Sports Illustrated calls the Astros the best team in the American League.
Either way, while the Astros caught everyone unaware in 2015, there will be no surprises in 2016.
There are a several things that the Astros will need in order to live up to those predictions. Here are just a few.
Last season, the Astros were 15-7 in April en route to a second place finish. Yes, the season is often won in the long haul of a 162-game season, but it’s very hard to dig out of a hole. Witness the decade between the World Series season (2005) and 2014. Last season’s start was the first winning April since 2006.
Take note. While every team will use the month to tweak batting orders and ease some pitchers into the season, Houston doesn’t have the luxury it has had in recent years. A good start — meaning a winning month — is crucial.
Weak links and black holes.
Any one of these guys can crawl out of the gate, but this group cannot stumble as a group and still produce a winning month.
Who are the Vincent Velasquezes and Lance McCullers Jrs. of 2016? At some point, Houston will need these guys. Colin Moran seems poised. Given the uncertanties of some positions and players, Moran will need to turn that poise into action soon.
Avoiding the sophomore tag.
Carlos Correa doesn’t seem likely to fall back, but can he maintain the same level of play as his rookie year? Will McCullers avoid the sophomore jinx? And, remember, it’s A.J. Hinch‘s second season in Houston as well. Will he feel the pressure as a manager who now is expected to succeed in 2016?
To be sure, there are several things that need to click if the Astros are to win 90 games, take the AL West flag and become — as SI suggests — the best team in the American League. It won’t take a village, but it will take a team effort, starting next week in New York.
I’m sure you have a short list of must-do’s and must haves as well.