MLB Preview: Can the Houston Astros Repeat Their 2017 Success?

The Houston Astros took home the 2017 World Series Trophy after beating the L.A. Dodgers 5 to 1 in Game 7. The Astros will look to repeat as World Series champs, something that doesn’t happen often. Check out a preview of he 2018 Houston Astros!

2018 Houston Astros Preview: Can They Repeat Their 2017 Success?

No team has repeated as World Series Champions since the New York Yankees won three World Series in a row in 1998, 1999, and 2000. In Major League Baseball, it’s been almost 20 years since a team has pulled off the back-to-back. The Houston Astros will be looking to repeat that success. Can the Astros do it? Below, I attempt to answer that question!

Houston Astros Projected Line-Up

CF – George Springer

3B – Alex Bregman

2B – Jose Altuve

SS – Carlos Correa

1B – Yuli Gurriel

RF – Josh Reddick

DH – Evan Gattis

LF – Derek Fisher

C – Brian McCann

The most important player in the batting line-up remains the great Jose Altuve. The 27-year-old Venezuelan had an unreal 2017. In addition to winning the AL MVP, Altuve took home the AP Male Athlete of the Year Award as well as the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award. Altuve is considered the best baseball player on the planet. For good reason. He batted .346, stole 32 basses, hit 24 home runs, batted in 81 runs, and scored 112 runs. He’s not alone in the line up.

Carlos Correa, who bats clean up for the Stros, hit .315 with 24 home runs. Correa batted in 84 runs. George Springer bat .283 with 34 home runs, 85 RBIs, and 112 runs scored. Third-baseman Alex Bregman bat .284. He hit 19 home runs. He batted in 71 runs. Yuli Gurriel, who bats fifth, posted a .299 batting average with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs.

Both Altuve and Bregman are great at stealing bases. Bregman stole 17 bases last season. Altuve stole 32 bases last season. The rest of the line up shakes out this way:  Josh Reddick posted a .314 batting average, Evan Gattis batted .263, left-fielder Derek Fisher batted .212 and catcher Brian McCann batted .241. The player listed as most probable to climb off the bench for the Stros is Marwin Gonzalez.

Gonzalez had a fantastic 2017. He batted .303. He scored 67 runs. He batted in 90 runs. He also hit 23 home runs. Gonzalez is almost another starter. He’s listed as coming off the bench this season, but make no mistake, Marwin Gonzalez is an incredibly important part of the Houston Astros team.

Batting Line-Up Analysis

Yuli Gurriel is suspended until April 3. Not that it matters. With a March 29 opening day, Gurriel will only miss a few of 162 regular season games. The Houston Astros shouldn’t miss a beat with Gurriel on the bench. Manager A.J. Hinch has so many great hitters up and down his line-up that all he must do is send Reddick up to spot 5, institute Marwin Gonzalez, or have designated hitter Evan Gattis bat in spot 5.

That’s the key for this batting line-up. Hinch has enough power hitters that he doesn’t have to make his fastest player his lead-off hitter. If Altuve was his lead-off hitter, the Astros might end up stranding way more base runners than they’d like. Not only does Hinch have a plethora of power hitters, he also fields a bunch of guys that can hit for average. Springer bats .283.

Think about how the game changes when your best power hitter can also hit for average. Springer is almost impossible to beat because he’s not always looking to hit a home run every time he steps to the plate. After you deal with Springer, you must deal with Bregman before getting to the best player in baseball. That makes it almost impossible for opposing teams to get the second out in the inning until they reach spot 7 in the batting line-up.

What it means is that Houston’s top hitters, the first 6 hitters in the line-up, get to the plate more in most games than the other team’s top 6 hitters. That alone makes Houston’s batting line-up one of the best in MLB. What makes Houston’s batting line-up the best in Major League Baseball is the fact that every single player in the top 6 spots, top 7 if Gurriel plays and Gonzalez fills in for Gattis, can hit for home runs or hit for average.

Unless the Stros batting line-up completely falls apart this season, expect Houston to field the very best group of bats in MLB. Also, let’s not kid ourselves about A.J. Hinch. The man’s become an artist when it comes to putting together line-ups that punish specific opposing pitchers.

Houston Astros Projected Starting Rotation

Justin Verlander (RHP)

Dallas Kuechel (LHP)

Gerritt Cole (RHP)

Lance McCullers (RHP)

Charlie Morton (RHP)

Justin Verlander went 15 and 8 last season. Verlander had a .382 ERA when starting 28 games for the Detroit Tigers. He only started 5 games for the Houston Astros. In only 34 innings, Verlander struck out 43 batters. That averages out to 1.26 strikeouts per inning. Verlander’s ERA with Houston was 1.06.

Dallas Kuechel, the Astros’ other ace, went 14 and 5. Kuechel posted a 2.90 ERA. He struck out 125 batters in only 145.2 innings pitched. Kuechel walked 45 batters in those 145 innings. Gerritt Cole is projected to be the third starter in the rotation.

Cole went 12 and 12 while throwing for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. He posted a 4.26 ERA. It was the highest ERA of Cole’s career. Right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton fill out the starting rotation.

McCullers went 7 and 4 with a 4.25 ERA. He pitched 118.2 innings, posted 132 strikeouts, and also walked 40 batters. Morton won 14 games and lost 7. His ERA was 3.62. He struck out 163 batters in only 146.2 innings pitched. Morton averaged over a strikeout an inning.

Starting Rotation Analysis

Houston has two aces in Justin Verlander and Dallas Kuechel. Although Verlander is 35-years-old, he showed no signs of wear and tear after being traded to the Houston Astros. While with Detroit, Verlander didn’t seem to have his best stuff. With Houston, he was absolutely fantastic.

Dallas Kuechel got hurt during the 2017 MLB Season. Before getting hurt Kuechel had a sub-2.00 ERA. He was on his way to a possible Cy Young Award before the injury. Kuechel didn’t come back as lights out after the injury. That’s why Houston pulled the trigger on Verlander.

Lance McCullers showed up in Game 7 of the World Series. He should be okay. Morton is a solid man in the rotation. The pitcher to worry about is Gerritt Cole. Cole has a ton of ability. He hasn’t panned out yet as one of the top pitchers in MLB. Maybe, because he won’t have to bat in the AL, Cole steps it up for the Stros.

If Cole comes around, and if Kuechel plays a full season where he dominates, it’s hard to see a better rotation in baseball. The rotation, almost as much as the bats, is why Houston has a legit shot to win their second straight World Series.

Houston Astros Bullpen

It must feel good to be a Houston Astros fan. The Stros won the World Series last season without a shut down closer. Who knows if Ken Giles is the answer this season. If he isn’t, it might not matter. The bullpen is full of relievers that can get the necessary outs to win ball games.

A.J. Hinch doesn’t employ his bullpen in the traditional manner. Giles didn’t even see the diamond in the Stros’ 5 to 1 Game 7 World Series win over the Dodgers.  Morton started. Hinch sent out Peacock, Francisco Liriano, Chris Devenski, and Lance McCullers.

Hinch won’t have to employ his bullpen this way in every game this season. Giles should be okay in most games. But, if he ends up blowing saves towards the end of the regular season, don’t be surprised if Hinch utilizes everybody to get playoff wins.

Houston Astros 2018 MLB Prediction

The Astros are the full package. It’s difficult to see any team beating Houston for either the American League Pennant, or the World Series. Although I just wrote that, repeating as World Series Champions isn’t easy.

Both Cleveland and the New York Yankees will put up a fight. I like the Astros to win the World Series again. I’m not ready to write that they’re a sure thing, though.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson

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