The 2019-20 MLB offseason revolved around ace pitcher Gerrit Cole. Plenty of teams and players signed big deals, but all eyes were on Cole. His departure from Houston signals the end of the Cole era for the Astros. The team won it all in 2017 before Cole came on board and came close again in 2019. But after Cole threw heat all season long, the Yankees made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Stud pitcher Justin Verlander still plays in Houston, but with their ace in New York and MLB making an example of the Astros for their cheating scandal, can they make it back to the World Series?
The Astros’ projected 2020 win totals
According to the most recent odds from FanDuel, the Astros project to win 97.5 games this year. While that’s good for the third-highest in the league, they managed 107 wins in 2019. The loss of Gerrit Cole obviously impacts the odds; the Yankees are projected for an eye-popping 101.5 wins.
Despite all the media attention on Cole over the offseason, Houston hung on to Justin Verlander. He surpassed 300 strikeouts and won the Cy Young in 2019 with a resurgent and age-defying year. It was the feel-good story of the season, but he probably can’t make it happen again.
Offseason allegations that their success may not have been entirely legitimate might be factoring into the upcoming season’s predictions. Projected win totals certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all. Teams outperform preseason predictions all the time. But the Astros may be facing one of the biggest hills to climb in their long MLB history.
The Astros have an up-and-down history
Houston’s baseball team started as the Colt .45s in 1962. Through 1985, they only won their division once. They fell short in the playoffs even once they began winning their division. The Astros won the division four times between 1997 and 2001 but lost in the NLDS each time. Their combined record in the playoffs over that stretch was 2-12. After the Chicago White Sox swept them in the 2005 World Series, the Astros waited another 10 years to make it back to the playoffs.
The Astros didn’t win their division once between 2003 and 2016. But spurred on by a breakout MVP year from Jose Altuve, they won the division (and more than 100 games) every year from 2017-2019. The 2017 run finished with the Astros lifting the World Series trophy for the first time in team history. Over the next two years, the team struggled to recapture 2017’s magic. The prolific offense within a game of winning the World Series again in 2019, but their incredible run might be over.
Why Justin Verlander and the Astros won’t make the World Series
We already discussed the Gerrit Cole loss and MLB’s punishment for cheating. But those weren’t the only blows in Houston in the offseason. The Astros struggled to hold on to several other free agents, including Will Harris (to Washington), Wade Miley (to Cincinnati), Robinson Chirinos (to Texas), and Hector Rondon (to Arizona).
Not only that, but Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels. Putting him in the same lineup as Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and the seemingly ageless Albert Pujols makes the Angels a dangerous contender. The Rangers upgraded, and the Oakland A’s always find a way to compete. Suddenly, the AL West doesn’t look like a cakewalk anymore.
The Astros have battled valiantly for almost 60 years, but their dynasty appears to be ending just as soon as it began, but the team may have some tricks up its sleeve.
Altuve is still under contract, and the team managed to hang on to some of their other stars. All-Star Alex Bregman finished second in MVP voting last year and will stay with the team. While the Astros are heading to arbitration with George Springer (again), it seems likely he’ll lace up the cleats for another great year in 2020.
After an up and down history in the MLB, it’s fantastic that the Astros finally got the chance to win the big one. However, the past two seasons show that making lightning strike twice is harder than it seems. The Astros have a long and storied MLB history, but the sun may be setting on their time in the upper echelon of teams — at least for the early 2020s.