The Houston Astros are the defending World Series Champions, and while they are the team to beat in Major League Baseball until proven otherwise, teams very rarely repeat as champions in sports. But, when you look at how formidable and star-studded their starting rotation has been, the American League may be unable to fully overcome the likes of the Astros in October.
The Astros, to no ones’ surprise, are on top of the American League West at 30-18. Manager AJ Hinch is getting production from every facet of his team whether it be the Astros’ lineup, bullpen, or starting rotation, and they are the most well-rounded team in the division. Thanks to the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and friends, the Astros are eighth in runs scored (221) and 11th in team batting average (.251). They’re also fourth in bullpen ERA (2.89) with an MLB-best 31 walks surrendered by their pen.
The Astros’ starting rotation? They’re first in the majors with a 2.43 ERA. No, you’re not reading that wrong. If the Astros were a single arm, they’d have the 13th best ERA in the game; this type of execution is unheard of.
Ever since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers back in August, future Hall of Fame righty Justin Verlander has been arguably the most productive and efficient starter in the game. But this season, he’s pitching at a historic rate. Currently owning an MLB-best 1.05 ERA and 0.71 WHIP, while recording 84 strikeouts in 10 starts, Verlander has been virtually unhittable. The most runs he’s given up in a game is three and he did so just once. He’s blowing his heater past hitters, pitching deep into games, and is running away with the American League Cy Young Award.
After Verlander, 27-year-old Gerrit Cole has been nothing short of miraculous in his debut season with the Astros. Currently owning a 1.75 ERA (which is third in MLB) and a 0.79 WHIP (which is second in baseball behind Verlander) while recording 93 strikeouts (which is second in MLB) in nine starts, Cole has been a force to be reckoned with on the hill. He’s also pitched less than six innings just once in those nine starts. Cole is pitching deep into games, catching hitters off-guard, and has been flat-out dominant. A trade once made for depth has turned into a complete steal for the Astros as Cole has helped form a five-headed monster alongside Verlander, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers.
Morton has finally come into his own as a reliable top-of-the-rotation arm and in a big way. Currently owning a 1.94 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, while recording 70 strikeouts in nine starts, the righty has been hitting his spots, and getting hitters to groundout often. Keuchel hasn’t been superb, but he still has a 3.43 ERA and is averaging just over six innings per start. And considering that he’s hitting free agency after the 2018 season, the lefty has to prove he can duplicate his heroics of years’past if he aspires to cash in. The 24-year-old McCullers owns a 3.20 ERA and has recorded 66 strikeouts in 10 starts. He’s continually improved and shown up both in the regular season and postseason; he can only get better.
The Astros have three starters with an ERA under two. Their worst starter has an ERA of 3.43 and that pitcher was the team’s ace one year ago. Houston’s five starters combine for a 2.43 ERA. They lead baseball in strikeouts (494) and are, undoubtedly, the best rotation in the majors. Once the ace of their staff, Keuchel is now possibly the Astros’ number four starter in the playoffs. Imagine someone who has been a top-10 starter in the majors in recent memory being a team’s number four arm: The postseason will be a living hell for any lineup this rotation faces, no matter the firepower that team possesses. And there are probably at least 15 teams in the majors who could bring Keuchel in and have him be their ace from the get-go.
The New York Yankees have a formidable lineup headlined by Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, as well as a bonafide ace in Luis Severino. The Boston Red Sox have outfielders Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez hitting at Most Valuable Player Award levels as well as the best lefty in the AL in Chris Sale. The Cleveland Indians have a deep rotation which features the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and the emerging Mike Clevinger and possess heavy swingers such as Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion. The Los Angeles Angles have been one of the biggest stories in the first two months of the 2018 season with two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Justin Upton, and friends hitting and executing at a high level.
The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Angels are all teams that cannot be taken for granted by the Astros and ones that could make some noise in October if they reach postseason play. The Astros are not a given by any means to make it back to the World Series, but look at their starting rotation: How is anyone going to win three or four games versus Verlander, Cole, Morton, and Keuchel?The Houston @astros have the best starting rotation in baseball. It's hard to imagine any AL team getting past that in the playoffs.Click To Tweet
Many figured the Astros were on the verge of a dynasty after winning the World Series and rightfully so. But that notion was based on their electric young lineup. Ironically, while their lineup has been hitting at a high level, they have just one everyday player hitting above .300 (Altuve), and they aren’t knocking the cover off the ball while their starting staff holds down the fort at a historic level.
The Astros will most likely let Keuchel walk in free agency because they’re going to have to pay a number of their position players in the near-future. But that’s why management made the slick trade for Verlander back in August and Cole this past offseason. The two righties are now the best one-two punch in the game for the time being, and the Astros also have Morton and McCullers pitching at All-Star levels.
Anything can happen in October, but great pitching beats great hitting. There’s not a team in the Majors who can match Houston’s rotation, and it’s only improved since winning the World Series. Good luck American League: The Astros have the edge over whoever they face.