After struggling against the Rangers in 2016, the Astros must field a team that can stand toe to toe with the division rivals.
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Perhaps the biggest storyline for the 2016 Astros was how they were thoroughly dominated by the division rival Texas Rangers. Losing 15 of the 19 games they played against the club from the Metroplex had a great impact on the team’s overall fortunes.
CTH’s Cody Poage outlined the need for the Astros to conquer the Rangers in 2017, and that cannot be overstated. GM Jeff Luhnow has already made a handful of moves this offseason to improve the team, but there is more to be done.
Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and ex-Ranger Carlos Beltran will boost and lengthen the lineup. They also bring experience and strong clubhouse presences. Those traits will be invaluable, especially when facing the Rangers.
Starting rotation seems lacking
The pitching staff, however, needs some help. If things break right, a healthy Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers will be a strong 1-2 punch. But that’s if things break right. It would be unwise to pin the season’s hopes on that, as 2016 showed us. Therefore, the Astros need one more solid rotation piece.
It seems the team is out on Jose Quintana after finding Chicago’s asking price to be exorbitant. Former All-Star Tyson Ross is available in free agency if the Astros want to give him the chance to rebound. The Rays, Diamondbacks, Royals and possibly others could look to trade starting pitching. Luhnow has the goods to pull off a trade for a solid mid-rotation starter, which would help greatly.
Though the Rangers have lost Beltran, Mitch Moreland and Ian Desmond off last year’s team, their lineup is still potent. Facing the likes of Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy and Astro killer Rougned Odor will require at least one more solid starter.
Bullpen still shorthanded
Speaking of Odor, he is reason enough for the Astros to add one more piece to the bullpen. The lefty hitter slashed .311/.325/.649 against the Astros in 2016. His six homers and 19 RBIs were his most against any opponent. The Astros’ main bullpen lefty, Tony Sipp, has yielded a .333/.556/.500 line to Odor over nine career appearances.
Odor is far from the only reason though. Ranger hitters knocked Sipp around to the tune of a .462/.533/.692 line in 2016. While he can certainly rebound to his 2014-2015 form, Sipp cannot be relied on as the only lefty in the ‘pen.
Veteran lefties Jerry Blevins, Charlie Furbush, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan are available in free agency. Travis Wood could be used in the rotation or bullpen. A trade is also a possibility. Either way, the Astros need more than just Sipp to face Odor, Shin-Soo Choo and other tough lefties.
Rangers likely not done
Though GM Jon Daniels hasn’t made a big splash this offseason, the Rangers still have moves to make. The team has clear openings at DH and first base. Rumors have them linked to Mike Napoli, fresh off a 34-homer season. A rotation upgrade could be in order as well.
They’re also in the Astros’ heads, and they’re the main obstacle between A.J. Hinch’s club and the AL West title. Jose Altuve and Co. simply cannot win the division without overcoming their intrastate rivals.
If Luhnow puts together a team strong enough and deep enough to consistently beat the Rangers, the rest will take care of itself. Simply posting a winning record against Texas would be a huge victory. With a few more tweaks, the 2017 Astros could do that and a great deal more.
**Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com**