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2018 MLB Preview: Houston Astros

2017: 101-61

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Last World Series Title: 2017

2017 Recap                       

In the past, we have seen teams like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (83-78) and the 2000 New York Yankees (87-74), win the World Series despite not being the best team in baseball. In 2017, the best team won the World Series. The Houston Astros were, by far, the most elite squad in 2017.

2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve (SI.com)

Houston finished the season with 101 wins, and an incredible 53-28 record on the road. Although their second half did not mirror their 60-29 first half, Houston never had a problem. The Astros offense finished first in hits, runs, doubles, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and total bases. The ringleader behind their offensive success was the 5-6, 165lb, second basemen from Venezuela, Mr. Jose Altuve.

Last year, Altuve was clearly the best player in baseball. He was named the AL MVP, and hit .346/.410/.547 with 112 runs, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs, and 32 steals. He became the first player ever to lead the AL or NL in hits for four straight seasons. 2017 marked Altuve’s fourth season with at least 200 hits, 50 extra-base hits, and 25 stolen bases, which is tied for TY Cobb for the most all-time. He is the first player to have multiple seasons of at least 200 hits, 20 home runs, and 30 steals. Here is a table to illustrate how amazing he was in 2017. 

JOSE ALTUVE IN 2017

 

STATALTUVE’S RANK IN MLB
WAR1ST
BATTING AVERAGE1ST
OBP6TH
RUNSTIED FOR 6TH
HITS2ND
TOTAL BASES9TH
STEALS6TH
ADJUSTED OPS+5TH
RUNS CREATED5TH

 

Of course, Houston had plenty of other stars. Altuve, along with Carlos Correa, George Springer, Chris Devenski, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, were all named All-Star’s. Correa, who missed a good chunk of time because of a torn thumb ligament, still managed to hit .315 with 24 home runs, 85 RBIs, and a .391 OBP. He joined Alex Rodriguez as the only two shortstops to have at least 390 hits, 80 doubles, 60 home runs, 200 runs and 240 RBIs before turning 23.

2017 was probably the best year of George Springer’s life. He finished tied for sixth in runs, and set career highs in home runs (34), RBIs (85), batting average (.283), and OPS (.889). Although he struggled in the ALCS against New York, Springer erupted in the World Series and earned World Series MVP after hitting .379, with 5 home runs (tied for most in a single World Series), 7 RBIs, and a .471 OBP.

The offense was obviously stellar, but, to bolster the pitching, the Astros added some guy named Justin Verlander at the trade deadline. The former CY Young and MVP winner went 9-1 with a 1.66 ERA in the regular and postseason with Houston. Pretty damn good if you ask me.

2018: Around the Diamond

As scary as this sounds for the other 29 teams, the Astros probably got better. They have a plethora of young talent who have yet to reach their full potential. Correa, 23, is still improving and could put up incredible numbers over a full-season, Altuve is right behind Trout as the best player in the game, and third basemen Alex Bregman is just 23 years-old and is coming off a stellar 2017.

Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa are both just 23 years-old. (Houston Chronicle)

Bregman hit .284 with 19 home runs, 17 steals, 71 RBIs, and a .352 OBP. He hit .331 against lefties, and .302 in high leverage situations. The brighter the lights, the better Bregman performs, as we saw this against the Dodgers in the World Series when he hit two home runs and drove in five.

Yuli Gurriel, first basemen, finished tied for seventh in doubles with 43, and hit .299 with 18 home runs. The most ridiculous Gurriel stat is his average in 0-1 counts. When he is down 0-1, Gurriel hit .331. As absurd as this sounds, when the count was in his favor, 1-0, Gurriel hit just .263. He actually performed better when the odds were stacked against him.

Behind the plate, for this stacked infield, will be a mix of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who will most likely start at DH. Gattis hit 20+ HR from 2013-2016 and was banged up last year, playing just 84 games. If Gattis struggles, Tyler White, who hit .300 with 25 home runs in AAA during his 2017 campaign, should step in. Josh Reddick, who finished 10th in batting average at .314, including .346 with men in scoring position, and had a career high .847 OPS, will start in right, while Springer will be in center.

Left field is an interesting spot for Houston in 2018. It appears Marwin Gonzalez, who finished seventh in adjusted OPS+ last season, will start there, but there is a good chance Derek Fisher will steal his job if he has a good spring. Gonzalez was great last year, but his previous best WAR season was 1.2. Fisher is a power-speed guy who hit .318 with 21 home runs and 66 RBIs in 84 games at AAA in 2017. Houston also has Jake Marisnick, who will get some playing time in the outfield.

On the Bump

Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, and Charlie Morton were all great last year, but Houston decided to bolster up the rotation even more. In January, the Astros traded for Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole. Cole won 12 games with a 1.25 WHIP in 2017. He is now 27 years of age, and is still on the rise. Don’t forget, this is a guy who went 19-8 with a 2.80 ERA in 2015. If Cole can get back to his elite self, and let up fewer long-balls, this team might be unstoppable.

Ken Giles, who had 34 saves last season, will remain the closer. Devenski, and Will Harris are still with the ball club, and Houston also brought in Hector Rondon and Joe Smith to beef up the ‘pen.

The Future

Even with arguably the best roster in baseball, Houston has three prospects ranked in the Top 100 Prospects list on MLB.com. Headlining this list is RHP, Forrest Whitley, who comes in as the ninth-best prospect, and second-best RHP. Whitley was drafted by Houston in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, and has yet to disappoint. In 23 games, 18 starts, between A/A+/AA, Whitley posted a 2.83 ERA and struck out 143 batters in just 92.1 innings.

Whitley is facing a 50-game suspension for violating the drug policy. (Baseball America)

He stands tall at 6’7”, and, not only has a fastball that can get up to 97 mph, but Whitley also mixes in a 12-to-6 curveball, a slider, and a changeup. He is currently facing a 50 game suspension for violating the drug policy, which will slow down his progression, but expect to see this guy on the mound for Houston in the near future.

Kyle Tucker (No.17), is someone who you should expect to see at some point in 2018. The 21-year-old OF, in 120 games, hit 25 home runs, with 90 RBIs, and 21 steals between A+/AA. Tucker was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft and looks like he could be an offensive beast at the MLB level.

Houston’s final member on the Top 100 Prospects list is J.B. Bukauskas (No. 76). Bukauskas was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and has drawn comparisons to Sonny Gray. He was a star for the UNC baseball team, going 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA.

2018 Prediction: 98-64

Because the Mariners and Angels got better, Houston may win a few less games, but this is clearly the best team in the AL. Springer, Correa, and Altuve are all MVP candidates, and if Cole can limit the home runs, there is no reason to think that this team cannot repeat as World Series champions.

Featured image by MLB.com

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