There is always a mix of over-optimism mixed with down in the dumps pessimism in the springtime for baseball teams.
If your team won the last World Series, it is natural for some fans to feel that their team is bulletproof, while others think they can’t get that lucky again. If they are one of the other 29 teams it is natural for some to think this is the year, while others sing that Hee Haw tune “Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me”.
After the Astros spit the bit short of the World Series in 2018, there is the same mix of optimism and pessimism this Spring Training.
“This is almost the same team that won it all in 2017.”
“This is a team that had to replace three starters in the rotation.”
“This is a team that was just a couple bad breaks from going to the WS again in 2018.”
“This is a team that has said goodbye to Marwin and McCann and Gattis and Keuchel (probably) and Morton and McCullers…”
You get the idea. Well today, the blog is going to take the high road and look at reasons why this team can win it again this year.
- The Twin Towers. At the top of their rotation, the Astros have something that most teams would kill for- a two-headed Cy Young worthy monster named Justit Colelander. Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA, 12.6 K/ 9 IP) and Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA, 12.4 K/9 IP) were just a scosh short of CY winner Blake Snell and that gives the Astros a tremendous base to their rotation.
- The Best 5′-6″ Player in the World. He’s not the best baseball player in the world while Mike Trout is breathing, but Jose Altuve is on a very short list behind the Angel superstar. He was a step down in 2018 (.316 BA/ .837 OPS/ 84 runs/ 61 RBIs) from his 2017 MVP year (.346 BA/ .957 OPS/ 112 runs/ 81 RBIs), but proved he was certainly the best one-legged player in the world.
- The “Back” is Back. Carlos Correa has a lot to prove in 2019 after his back problems helped lead to a poor injury riddled 2018 (.239 BA/ .728 OPS/ 60 runs/ 65 RBIs). A return to 2017 (.315 BA/ .941 OPS/ 82 runs/ 84 RBIs) for Carlos would really help supercharge this offense.
- Stare-way to Heaven. Alex Bregman was disappointed in the pre-arb contract he received from the Astros. Of course, he had no real leverage this time around. It is a good bet that as he heads towards arbitration next off-season he will put up numbers that will give him a lever that Archimedes would take pride in, especially if his great 2018 (105 runs, 51 doubles, 31 HRs, 103 RBIs) is any indication.
- Burn On Big Brantley. Back in the old days (pre-2015?) the signing of an All Star OF with the credentials of Cleveland’s Michael Brantley would have been cause for celebration. This pickup has almost been under the radar in an off-season of $300+ million contracts. Brantley is a consistent, professional hitter (.309 BA/ .364 OBP/ .832 OPS in 2018), who gives the team some left-handed balance and should thrive wherever he is placed in a lineup with the big four of the Houston Astros.
- Late Inning Duos. The Astros headed towards the trade deadline last year needing to make some kind of move with their bullpen. Ken Giles had melted down, both emotionally and in his ability to perform and it seemed that the Astros and Giles needed a change of scenery. The Astros unloaded Giles and picked up closer Roberto Osuna from Toronto and separately picked up a super gem in reliever Ryan Pressly from Minnesota. After the trades, Osuna (12 saves, 1.99 ERA) and Pressly (2 saves, 0.77 ERA/ 0.600 WHIP) made the late innings a happy place for Astro fans.
- Any Portsider in a Strom. Pitching coach Brent Strom continues his reputation as a bit of a horse whisperer to pitchers as he has helped most of his staff to reach heights they had never reached before, be it those with little success before coming here (Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh) or some of the best in the business (Verlander and Cole). After leading the best staff in the majors in 2018, Strom will face a big challenge with a revamped starting staff in 2019, but he is a reason that fans can be hopeful.
- Time Change – Springer Forward. When somebody like George Springer is your 4th or 5th best hitter, you have a heck of a lineup. Like Correa and Altuve, injury helped lower his strong 2017 (.283 BA/ .889 OPS/ 34 HRs/ 85 RBIs) to an average 2018 (.265 BA/. 780 OPS/ 22 HRs/ 71 RBIs). Springer is the type player who can carry a team for a month at a time or for a World Series. Again, he is a big part of the Astros’ lineup riches.
- Life is a Hinch. A.J. Hinch enters his 5th season as the Astros’ managerial leader with a 57.7% winning percentage (not counting interim managers) and sometime during 2019 he will add to his 374-274 record and vault into 2nd place in wins over Art Howe (392 wins in 5 seasons) and Larry Dierker (435 wins in 5 seasons). He will only be trailing Bill Virdon who put up 544 wins in 8 seasons. With any luck A.J. will pass Virdon in season six. Hinch is a good mix of calm and caring and has got the most out of his team since he joined them before the 2015 season.
- Luhnow Has the Know How – Obviously winning the World Series gives any GM a lot of slack, but Luhnow has done his best to put together a team that can win today and tomorrow. Will they hit bumps along the way? Sure. But would you rather have Jeff Luhnow steering through next off-season and the free agency of four starting pitchers or Ed Wade?
There are other good reasons to trust in this team, whether it is the clutch hitting of Yuli Gurriel, the hustle and glove of Josh Reddick, the solid stick of Robinson Chirinos, the team-first attitude of Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock or the young arms of Josh James, Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas. This team is built to contend and they are built to win it all again in 2019.