Opening Weekend was a success for the Houston Astros, but just three games does not a championship win. The only goal for the reigning World Series champions is to return to the fourth-largest city in the United States in November for yet another packed downtown parade honoring the Commissioner’s Trophy winners.
With perhaps the best and most lethal lineup in Major League Baseball, coupled with a starting pitching rotation that features two Cy Young Award winners and two other former All-Stars, the Astros have the horses to compete for their second straight title. It seems insane to say — with 2011-2013 taken into account — but the ‘Stros are contenders for now and for long.
Their World Series quest began last weekend, and though they won’t get another postseason berth in April, their 3-1 series win over the Texas Rangers on the road in Arlington was a display of why this team remains as dangerous as any. It also set in stone the five things the Astros need to keep in mind over the 2018 season to repeat as American League pennant winners.
Our Houston Astros season preview highlights five keys to a potential World Series repeat run.
A Healthy Starting Rotation
The Astros suffered various injuries in their starting rotation in 2017. Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers Jr. visited the disabled list at points last season, leaving the Astros stranded to find spot starters. Francis Martes, Dayan Diaz, and David Paulino all started games on the hill for Houston last season, an indicator of the lack of sustained health on the mound.
In 2018, the Astros will need their five filthy pitchers to stay healthy to have a chance at the crown. Their rotation, as it stands, features five starters who could be aces on rebuilding clubs: McCullers and Keuchel are joined by Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Morton atop baseball’s starting pitching hierarchy.
This team can and will take off as their pitchers do, if they stay healthy. For example, all five Houston starters absolutely dealt in their first trip through the rotation:Baseball Essential's Houston Astros season preview highlights five keys to a potential World Series repeat run.Click To Tweet
Verlander (Thursday): 6.0 innings, four hits, no earned runs, two walks, five strikeouts (W).
Keuchel (Friday): 6.0 innings, seven hits, three earned runs, one walk, four strikeouts (L).
McCullers (Saturday): 5.1 innings, four hits, two earned runs, one walk, 10 strikeouts (W).
Cole (Sunday): 7.0 innings, two hits, one earned run, three walks, 11 strikeouts (W).
Morton (Monday): 6.0 innings, three hits, no runs, two walks, six strikeouts (W).
Full, Productive Seasons From The Middle Infield
We all know of the middle infield dominance going both ways from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, both perpetual .300 hitters with dazzling gloves and great arms. One took home American League Most Valuable Player honors last season, the other very well might have had he not missed 53 games (Correa set a 9.7 Baseball-Reference WAR full-season pace).
Altuve has been an extremely durable and consistent hitter throughout his MLB career, and Correa, not so much. The former Rookie of the Year at short has had trouble staying 100 percent throughout his short, ever-evolving career. With the AL getting tighter and stronger, full seasons from one of the best double play combos ever would pay dividends to the Astros.
A Consistent, Reliable Bullpen
If it weren’t for a postseason that served as a car compactor for the dreams of middle relievers and closers, the Astros struggles with arms coming out of the bullpen would be magnified. The 2017 playoffs made fools out of all relievers, but guys like Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, and Will Harris were no better.
The Astros pen combined for 131 hits in 159 innings of work, yielding 21 home runs, 52 walks, and 73 earned runs (4.13 ERA) in the postseason. To repeat as World Series champs, Houston will need to see their relievers put more consistency and reliability onto the field.
For now, it’s working. A revamped bullpen that features the likes of Hector Rondon and starters-turned-relievers McHugh and Brad Peacock pitched to the tune of just 21 hits in 26 innings, a 3.12 ERA, and 28 strikeouts. Let’s hope that pace can continue all season long.
Youth Movement Coming to Fruition
Carlos Correa is actually the youngest player on this World Series caliber team (23 years old), but not the only flashy youngster. Alex Bregman, Derek Fisher, and prospects like Kyle Tucker, A.J. Reed, and J.D. Davis join a star-studded team as one of the youngest clubs in MLB sees even more youth coming along.
As a direct impact of their highly successful rebuild earlier in the decade, the Astros boast one of the best farm systems in the sport. The impact players keep coming for Houston, and to have those prospects and young leaders continue making strides in 2018 is pivotal to their World Series aspirations this season.
Besides, Bregman drove in Fisher to win Game 5 of the World Series last season. Having young guys who can step in and make a difference at the plate and on the dirt is a win for anyone in orange and blue.
Everybody Buying Into the Astros System
A lot of the players on this Astros team have, for the majority of their careers, been the best players on their teams. Whether that’s Verlander with the Detroit Tigers, Brian McCann with the Atlanta Braves, or Cole with the Pittsburgh Pirates, this rings true.
It’s extremely important to buy into this super-team concept and accept that the spotlight won’t always be on you. This goes for the newcomers like Cole and (still, relatively new) Verlander, but also the established faces of baseball in H’Town. The Altuve, Correa, Keuchel types have to see the big picture and understand that the team-wide success of the Astros might dip into their own individual abilities to prosper.
If they can see what 2017 did for them, as the whole squad chipped in and made noise all through the season with an exclamation point on November 1, it won’t be an issue for everyone to put themselves on the back burner.