The Houston Astros have never won a World Series. In their 55-year history (including the first three years as the Houston Colt .45s) of running through the likes of franchise superstars Jose Cruz, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio, Houston has never tasted title glory. Despite coming close in 1980, 2004, and winning their only pennant in 2005, they have always had some sort of problem.
Chicago Cubs fans across the country have spent countless hours this spring wondering whether or not this is finally the year, and it is… for their former division-rival Astros. While we are barely into the 2016 season, some of the favorites that were discussed at length over the winter seem to have asserted themselves in the early-goings.
In the American League, it was David and David (Price and Ortiz) propelling the Boston Red Sox to an impressive Opening Day victory in Cleveland, while the Kansas City Royals were off to a quick start on Sunday against the New York Mets. Over on the senior circuit side of things, the National League East saw the Mets come back with a big win against KC in game two and the Washington Nationals escape the Atlanta Braves’ clutches behind yet another first-game homer from freak of nature Bryce Harper.
In the stacked NL Central, the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates are both 2-0, and finally in the NL West, the perennial powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are perfect as well. So where does that leave Houston? In our minds, reigning AL Manager of the Year A.J. Hinch has the most balanced team in the AL and will finish with the top regular-season record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
From there (barring serious injuries), we see them knocking off the wild-card-game-winning Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and the AL East champion-Red Sox in the ALCS. That would set them up for their second ever appearance on the game’s biggest stage, this time as a member of the AL and this time squaring off against the Giants.
San Francisco, on paper, has a decent rotation headed by certifiable ace Madison Bumgarner, a solid lineup boasted by the talented Buster Posey, and a solid bullpen including the late-inning duo of Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. Along with the even-year title-winning pattern, nearly all of the Giants’ roster has World Series experience, but we see their magic running out in the 2016 World Series against Houston. So what is it about the Astros that we like so much? Let’s look at the roster.
We begin with the starting rotation. Coming off of a surprise 2015 AL Cy Young campaign, lefty Dallas Keuchel is the No. 1 again for Houston and while a bit of regression would be understandable if not expected, he should still be a solid ace. The rest of the group may not be the best in the league or the flashiest either, but they have solid depth and they return mostly the same group as last year.
In 2015, by the way, Houston was sixth in team earned run average at 3.57 and fourth in opponents batting average at .241. Moving to the lineup, we firmly believe that the Astros batting order one through nine is one of the tops in the business. An outfield of Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, and George Springer projects to be elite, while the double play combination of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve — both on offense and defense — could be the best in MLB.
The corner infielders with Luis Valbuena and Tyler White may be one somewhat weak spot for this club, but that is really nitpicking. Lastly, with the off-season pickup of former Philadelphia Phillies closer Ken Giles, the Houston bullpen has gone from good to great. Surprisingly, Giles will begin the year as the setup man, but he should be assured a shot at the closing duties if Opening Day closer Luke Gregerson falters.
Behind the shutdown combination of Gregerson and Giles are filthy lefty Tony Sipp and tricky submariner Pat Neshek. Simply put, these relievers will significantly shorten games in 2016. With Tuesday’s opening victory against the New York Yankees, the Astros are off to a good start in making our prediction come true. We are still in early April though. There is plenty of action to go.
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