When you’ve hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy as winners of the World Series for the first time in franchise history, there are few things you can reasonably wish for the next season. The Houston Astros are exactly that team this year. Choosing to hang yourself up on your flaws is no way to celebrate capturing a World Series title on the road in a decisive Game 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, at any rate, the Astros need to keep themselves from falling apart and stay in contention by patching a few holes.
They have the tools to be atop the American League for awhile, with AL Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve, World Series MVP George Springer, and former Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa ready to roll for the long run. Two Cy Young award winners in Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel on the hill, and a versatile third baseman in Alex Bregman round out some of the world class talent coming out of the Astros dugout.
But, sometimes it isn’t talent, chemistry, or flat out smarts that can win you the pennant and more. It’s often times luck, consistency, health, and financial hindsight that can play a pivotal role in the outcome of a team’s season. With that being said, here are five things the Houston Astros are wishing for in order to repeat as World Series champs in the 2018 season.
1) A Stable Bullpen, Specifically Ken Giles
In the first half of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the Astros’ bullpen was as lethal as any. Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Ken Giles and many others formed one of the best groups of relievers in baseball. After the All-Star break, they were less than that.
Devenski lost the trust of manager A.J. Hinch, Giles disappeared in the playoffs, and the Houston ‘pen ranked in the bottom half of baseball’s most crucial bullpen stats post All-Star break.
Guys like Harris, Luke Gregerson, and others fell off a cliff and couldn’t contribute much. In today’s game of matchups and short starts, you need a good bullpen to succeed. The Astros are wishing for more stability within theirs going forward.
2) A Healthy Carlos Correa
Carlos Correa is just 23 years old and already arguably the best shortstop in the major leagues. His skill at both fielding and hitting makes him a transcendent talent in the Astros’ infield.
His value to a team like the Astros, whose foundation is its youthful core, goes without saying. When Correa went down with a ligament tear in his thumb, the Astros went 20-22 in the span without the All-Star infielder. For Correa, who posted a 162-game pace of 36 home runs and 129 runs batted in, to stay healthy is imperative to a potential Fall Classic repeat berth.
Houston won 101 games even without Correa for a big chunk of the schedule, but playing sans one of the best young stars in MLB is a problem. The Astros will obviously wish for health from the shortstop this upcoming season.
3) Contract Extensions For Altuve, Springer, And Others
Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Marwin Gonzalez are locked-up for the 2018 MLB season, so take a deep breath, Astros fans. But still, Houston needs these guys sealed up for the long-term. Although money isn’t exactly flying around in a historically cheaper market like Houston, it’s important to extend these men’s contracts.
Altuve (free agent in 2020, club option in 2019) is making just $6 million and is worthy of far more than that. Springer (set for yearly arbitration until 2021) deserves a raise of large proportions after leading the team in home runs from the leadoff spot, and Gonzalez (free agent in 2019) has become the best utilityman in baseball.
The Astros, more specifically Astros fans, are wishing for contract extensions to come down for these cornerstone players, who were all integral to the World Series run of October.
4) Getting Hot At The Right Time, Like 2017
In baseball, it’s become somewhat of a requirement for championship teams to stay warm or get hot at the right time, riding a confidence-rising winning streak to a set of World Series rings. This was the case for the Astros in 2017.
While the Dodgers and Indians suffered through some slumps, the Astros finished their season at 14-4, batting .279 as a team in that stretch. The belief in themselves was high in the dugout, and the winning streak and general fun play indicated that. Of course, there was the Justin Verlander trade to boost morale late in the season.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to get down to things in October with a steady, smooth stride. Getting hot at the right time is something the Astros are wishing for in 2018 in their quests to repeat as champs.
5) Starting Rotation Health, Depth
Remember when Dallas Keuchel was 9-0 and on top of the American League Cy Young race in June? Remember when Lance McCullers made the All-Star game with a fireball, curveball mix that routinely fooled batters? I do.
The problem is that their seasons were quickly derailed with injuries that kept them from making their routine starts and workouts. Not only McCullers and Keuchel, but Charlie Morton, and Collin McHugh all suffered ailments that briefly took them out of starting rotation.
Guys like Francis Martes, Dayan Diaz, and David Paulino started games for the banged up Astros over the summer. For the Astros to have any chance at a repeat, they will be wishing for a healthier, deeper rotation.