For the first time in, well, ever, the Astros enter a new year as the defending champions.
The 2017 Astros will remembered fondly for a long, long time.
A LONG TIME.
Alas, the 2017 Astros quite frankly don’t matter any longer. Today, only the 2018 Astros matter.
On paper, the Astros should be one of the best teams in this young, new year. Talent is littered throughout the roster. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman, et cetra.
Talent galore, I say!
The pipeline is still churning quality players. And two of the team’s best, Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley, are inching closer and closer to their respective Major League debuts.
Fangraphs currently projects the Astros to win 97 games in 2018. That’s the best projected win total by three games. Three whole games over the Dodgers. Of course, the projections can be wrong. Heck, the projections will probably be wrong.
In terms of the AL West, the Astros competition will likely be tougher in this new year than 2017.
For example, the Angels have improved their roster in notable ways. Shohei Ohtani clearly stands out. The Mariners can surprise people if certain things break their way. The same line of thought applies to the Rangers and Athletics. Especially the Athletics in my point of view. I also think an argument could be made for the AL West now being the most competitive division in the league.
However, the Astros toughest competition likely takes residence outside of the division. The Indians are the presumptive favorite in the AL Central. The Yankees and Red Sox control the AL East once again. All three teams are good enough that they could supplant Houston as the best AL team if the Astros stumble.
As the roster currently stands, there isn’t much of a material weakness. Pitching depth, for example, is probably the highest priority. Another left-handed reliever is a near-must. Left field could also be a need, but Derek Fisher will probably get the first crack at the job before Jeff Luhnow and his front office looks elsewhere. The Astros’ roster quite simply doesn’t have many holes.
The key to Houston’s 2018 success likely rests on the health of its roster. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers need a healthy 2018 season. Both pitchers have missed significant time in each of the past two seasons. Verlander will anchor the top of the rotation, but the Astros will need more than just him to succeed. The same goes for the lineup and bullpen. Hopefully there is not another unfortunate injury like Correa’s thumb in July. Keeping the core four along with the others healthy will allow the Astros to retain their historic offense intact.
Regardless of how you felt about Ken Giles in the postseason, he remains the team’s best relief option in high-leverage situations. You should never ignore a reliever who posted a 2.30 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 60-plus innings last season due to a rough stretch. News flash: a lot of pitchers had issues in the postseason. The acquisitions of Joe Smith and Hector Rondon does reinforce the bullpen as well.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the Astros in 2018. The potential for a repeat championship is there. And it’s real. Alas, there is no guarantee in 2018 for us. Or the Astros.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs**