Astros: AL West division title will be tougher to win in 2020
The Astros will have a tougher road through the AL West this season.
To say the Astros have dominated the AL West the past three seasons would be putting it mildly. They won the division by an average of 12.3 games from 2017-2019. They also went a combined 56-20 against their division foes in 2019, which was the best mark in baseball.
But this offseason hasn’t been ideal for the Houston faithful. First, the Astros lost co-ace Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency. Wade Miley, Will Harris and Robinson Chirinos also departed. Then the sign stealing scandal hit, costing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs.
Now the Astros have a new leadership group in GM James Click and manager Dusty Baker, but the holes on the roster weren’t entirely filled. The only addition to the rotation was the trade for Austin Pruitt, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even be in the rotation. Joe Smith returns to help the bullpen, but the loss of Harris will sting.
The offense should still be fine, as the only losses were Chirinos and fourth outfielder Jake Marisnick. Full seasons of Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker will help, and better health from Carlos Correa would go a long way too.
But the pitching staff is notably weaker. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are a great duo at the top of the rotation, but Lance McCullers Jr. can’t be relied on for 200 innings this season, and Jose Urquidy is still somewhat unproven. The back of the rotation and the middle relief corps will need to be sorted out in Spring Training and could end up as revolving doors this season.
Meanwhile the competition in the division has gotten stronger. The Athletics with their 97 wins were the only other team in the division to have a winning record in 2019, but that could change. The Astros probably shouldn’t expect another 56 wins in the division this season.
The A’s are coming off two straight 97-win seasons, and their team is still intact. Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien and Matt Olson anchor the lineup, and a return to form from Khris Davis would make that offense even scarier.
If some of their young pitching can pull together, Oakland could boast a formidable rotation as well. The whole world will be watching the first time Mike Fiers faces the Astros, so that will be must-see TV. But the A’s are going to be right in the thick of it just as they usually are.
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The Angels have improved a lot this offseason, headlined by the signing of Anthony Rendon. Joc Pederson and Jason Castro also join the lineup alongside Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and Andrelton Simmons. They also get Shohei Ohtani back in the rotation alongside new additions Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy, and don’t forget they now have Joe Maddon in the dugout.
That lineup should be fierce, but the key to their season will be the pitching. If their guys can stay healthy and amount to even a league-average pitching staff, the lineup should carry them to around 90 wins or more. The Angels certainly won’t be a pushover this year.
The Rangers filled out their rotation with five quality pitchers. Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are joined by Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to form a stout group. The bullpen will have some areas of concern, but they should have no issues in the rotation if health permits.
The lineup will be a different story. After missing out on Rendon and Josh Donaldson, the only big addition was Todd Frazier, who’s a solid player but not nearly enough. They’ll need some of their young guys to step up and provide production around Joey Gallo. At the very least, I’d expect the Rangers to improve on last season’s 78 wins thanks to the rotation and the return of Chirinos.
The Mariners found the basement last year and will probably reside there again in 2020. This isn’t a team that’s ready to contend, and the injury situation with outfielder Mitch Haniger only adds to the uncertainty. Add that to the fact that the rest of the division looks strong and you have the makings of a team that may again lose 90 games. The Astros will need to beat up on the M’s because the rest of the division is stronger.