There was a similar feeling at the exact time last year surrounding the Astros. It was a feeling of pure optimism. Like a breath of fresh air.
I admit that there wasn’t much not to like about the Astros before the 2016 season. The starting rotation was solid on paper. The lineup was an overall strong group. And the bullpen had potential to be amongst the best. Optimism was the common feeling.
In all reality, the Astros weren’t that far off despite the struggles and injuries. Winning 84 games is nothing to sneeze at if I can be honest. I’m sure we all recall those 100+ loss seasons from earlier this decade. The lesson is not to take wins for granted.
The Astros though have come a long, long way since those dark times. And we have reasons to be optimistic in 2017.
For one, the lineup is poised to be good. No kidding whatsoever. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA Projections have the TAv (True Average) of the 2017 Astros at .268, which is currently the best in baseball. The primary reason, in my opinion, for that lies in the players that weren’t on Houston’s Opening Day roster a year ago: Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, and Yulieski Gurriel.
On the pitching side, Charlie Morton may be the under-the-radar signing that surprises everyone. His increased velocity, as noted here, could make Morton an effective pitcher for the Astros. If you can generate healthy and effective seasons from both Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, the rotation is in decent shape. Of course you have to wait on Collin McHugh to truly regain full strength status. In case you haven’t noticed, the rotation’s health drives this optimistic narrative.
This leads into the bullpen, which features three quality arms for high leverage situations. Outside of left-hander Tony Sipp’s well-documented struggles, the bullpen is deep.
The funny thing is that the same rhetoric was used last year too. And that is why I implore you, the reader, to be cautiously optimistic about these Astros. Baseball is a cruel mistress who can take the promise in March and turn it into a nightmare by July.
But make no mistake, this year’s team should be one the best in baseball. No excuses are allowed. This team is built for a sustained run of success. If the Astros fail to capitalize on this talent in 2017, the criticism that would follow is warranted.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus**