This is the last review in our look at American League West division as we turn our gaze to the Astros. We will include some stats from 2019 and 2020 since 2020 was such an odd wad season.
- Last Playoff season – 2020 when they lost the ALCS to the Rays 4-3
- Last Playoff winning series – 2020 when they beat the Twins 2-0 in the Wild Card round and the A’s 3-1 in the ALDS.
- The Astros are 1-2 all time in the World Series; winning in 2017 over the Dodgers 4-3, and losing to the White Sox 4-0 in 2005 and to the Nats 4-3 in 2019.
- 2019 Record – 107-55 1st place in the AL West – 10 games ahead (and franchise record for wins) / 60-21 at home / 47-34 on road / 24-19 one run games / 10-4 extra inning games – They were 11-8 against the A’s, 14-5 against the Angels, 13-6 against the Rangers and 18-1 against the M’s. 56 – 20 in the division
- Hitting – 5.68 runs/game (3rd in AL) / .274 BA (1st) / .352 OBP (1st) / .848 OPS (1st) / 288 HRs (3rd)
- Pitching – 3.95 runs/game (1st in AL) / 1.130 WHIP (1st) / 47 saves (3rd) – Starters – 3.61 ERA (1st) / Relievers – 3.75 ERA (2nd)
- 2020 Record – 29-31 2nd place in the AL West – 7 games behind / 20-8 at home / 9-23 on road / 10-14 one run games / 2-7 extra inning games – They were 3-7 against the A’s, 4-6 against the Angels, 5-5 against the Rangers and 7-3 against the M’s. 19-21 in the division.
- Hitting – 4.65 runs/game (7th in AL) / .240 BA (10th) / .312 OBP (11th) / .720 OPS (9th) / 69 HRs (10th)
- Pitching – 4.58 runs / game (8th) / 1.315 WHIP (8th) / 16 saves (7th) – Starters – 4.26 ERA (6th) / Relievers – 4.39 ERA (8th)
The Astros fortunes fell from a franchise high 107 wins in 2019 to just below .500 in 2020. Three main things contributed to this fall from the heights. First, were off-season losses as Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, Collin McHugh and Robinson Chirinos all left in free agency. Second, were in season losses as Joe Smith declined to pitch and Justin Verlander, Yordan Alvarez, Roberto Osuna, Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Josh James and Jose Urquidy missed most of the season with injury/illness. Third, and most difficult to gauge was the affect of the cheating scandal as most of the best Astro hitters – Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel – produced seasons well below their career norms. The Astros had other folks step up, including Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley.
2021 is about how the Astros absorb the losses of George Springer, Roberto Osuna, Brad Peacock, Josh Reddick and Chris Devenski to Free Agency and the losses of Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez and Andre Scrubb due to injuries of varying severity.
If the Astros are going to turn things around from a below .500 regular season in 2020, an offensive turn around has to be the first step. Losing George Springer (one of the few regulars who hit well in 2020) hurts, while re-signing Michael Brantley and welcoming back 2019 Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez helps. But truly the key to an improved offense revolves around the quartet of Altuve (.219 BA/.286 OBP/.629 OPS in 2020), Alex Bregman (.242/.350/.801), Yuli Gurriel (.232/.274/.658) and Carlos Correa (.264/.326/.709). A progression back to their norm or close to the norm would be a big boost to the offense. There has to be expectations that after a solid breakout performance in the mini-season, Kyle Tucker (.268/.325/.837/9 HR/42 RBIs/ 8 SBs) is ready to take it another notch up. The catcher tandem of Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro should be decent if not spectacular. The wild card is what can be expected of Springer “replacement” Myles Straw, who best bet is not to try and replace the powerful All-Star, but to work on being an on-base beast.
The Astros’ bench has been a bit of a weakness, and will probably continue to be so. It will include whichever catcher is not playing, who will likely not come in the game unless due to injury, Aledmys Diaz, who has hit pretty decent in small samples, IF Robel Garcia, whose glove is a question and OF Chas McCormick, who did not show too well in Spring Training.
The starting pitching could be a strength for the club, but the question marks around 2020 breakout star Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA) and his broken finger pull back the reins on that a bit. It appears that at least for the foreseeable time the Astros 5 man rotation will be Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03), Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93), newly added Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 6.59), who threw 50+ pitches in his last start, Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA), who missed time due to COVID protocol and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73 ERA), who comes off a perfect five inning stint in his last Spring Training start.
There are a number of big questions here. How many innings will these likely starters be able to tote this season after throwing so few in 2020 (especially Odorizzi and his 13.2 IP)? Will youngsters like Brian Bielak and Luis Garcia fill the spot starter / long reliever role on the club? And when will Valdez return to the team and will he be in the rotation or the bullpen when he does? Who would he bump out or would they go to the 6 man rotation instead? And the most out of left field question ….. is there any chance that Justin Verlander comes back at all after Tommy John surgery?
The bullpen is the area that might be the most worrisome for the Astros. In the last two seasons they’ve basically lost a whole bullpen as Osuna, Harris, McHugh, Rondon, Peacock and Devenski have left. The Astros had a lot of rookies – Taylor (2.18 ERA), Paredes (3.05 ERA), Scrubb (1.90 ERA) and Raley (3.94 ERA) who helped out in ~20 inning samples, but there is a concern that the other teams will get a book on these guys in their first real swing around the bigs. Ryan Pressly (12 saves, 3.43 ERA) was decent as a closer, but can he take things up a step? Pedro Baez (3.18) was a good arm in LA, but Covid has derailed him temporarily. Ryne Stanek is coming off two poor short seasons in a row with the Tampa Bay Rays. Someone who could be a big help in the higher leverage innings is youngster, Brian Abreu, who came back from a lost season to grab a spot on the team. Again, perhaps Bielak or Garcia will slide into a long reliever/spot starter role.
The Astros had shots at bigger fish in filling out their bullpen, but saved some of that capital for the Odorizzi signing. Will they need to change their tack during the season?
2021 Prediction: 92-70 and second in the AL West
The Astros were on the way to a 78-84 season (projected from the 29-31 record), so this represents a 14-game swing. Will it be enough to overtake the A’s this season?
The answer may well revolve around how good of news comes out of the Framber Valdez situation. That could swing this whole season from good to very good.