Status: Contending for another title
The Astros overcame injury issues and a challenge from the Athletics to win 103 games in 2018. They were no match for the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series but are one of the favourites to win the World Series again in 2019.
Losing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton to free agency left a hole in the rotation. Lance McCullers Jr. is out for the season because of Tommy John surgery, leaving three spots to fill behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.
With pitching prospects aplenty, the Astros decided against a big free agency splash. Wade Miley arrived after by far the best season of his career in 2018. The Astros have a knack for getting the best out of pitchers, and it will be interesting to see how close Miley is to his 2018 self. It’s a probable downgrade on McCullers and Keuchel, but Houston have depth to make up for it.
With Marwin Gonzalez joining the Twins, the Astros upgraded their line-up, adding Michael Brantley to play left field, DH and possibly a bit of first. Brantley obviously does not have the same versatility or durability as Gonzalez, but he’s another big bat in an already deep line-up.
Versatile J.D. Davis was sent with Cody Bohanek to join the New York Mets. Davis lit up Triple-A last season but struggled in his 42 Major League games. Luis Santana, Ross Adolph and Scott Manea arrived from the Mets.
What to watch
Carlos Correa was not his usual self in 2018. The 2015 Rookie of the Year was barely league average at the plate, which was at least partly down to injury issues. Winning over 100 games without Correa says a great deal about how scary the Astros are. This is the year where we might find out who he will be for the majority of his career.
The bullpen had a bad reputation, largely down to some high-profile meltdowns from Ken Giles. Giles is in Toronto now, and Roberto Osuna was dominant in Texas. Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski and Will Harris provide very good support for Osuna and we could see some of their prospects used in relief this year. It’s not packed with names like the Yankees bullpen, but it could be the best in baseball.
Forrest Whitley is the best pitching prospect in baseball. He has the stuff to be an ace, and after a suspension halted his development, we will likely see a lot of him in the Majors this season. Verlander and Cole are free agents at season’s end – it would make Houston’s life a lot easier if he slots straight into the rotation.
With 650 plate appearances from their middle of the order guys, Brantley replacing Gonzalez and Correa potentially back to MVP-level, it’s possible the Astros are even better this season.
The pitching is a greater uncertainty, of course, but Houston have a track record of improving/getting the best out of their starters. If they can get solid innings behind Verlander and Cole, the Astros are World Series favourites again.