In 2017, the Houston Astros found themselves on top of the Major League Baseball world, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series to win the franchise’s first title (at that time). With a roster young and full of talent, it was logical to think the Astros had all of the makings of a potential dynasty.
All of a sudden, a sign-stealing scandal threatened to derail what Houston was building. Members of the club’s front office and coaching staff were either fired or they resigned on their own, and the players were left to face the venom of fans everywhere outside of the Houston metropolitan area.
Through it all, the Astros have persevered, making it at least to the American League Championship Series in every season since, and they won the World Series in 2022, looking stronger than ever with a loaded roster and farm system.
As the 2023 season begins, Houston is poised to make a strong run at a second straight title, and these three reasons are why the prediction is the run ending in hoisting the trophy once again.
3. The batting lineup
It would be easy to single out players, but the Astros are one of the most complete teams in MLB, fielding a roster that doesn’t have a glaring weakness. With offense being at the forefront of every sport, lets start with the batting order. Houston didn’t make a whole lot of news in terms of free agent transactions, but they really didn’t have to considering what they already hold.
One of the few moves they did make is designed to upgrade the offense, and it’s in the person of first baseman Jose Abreu. The 2020 AL MVP joins a lineup that already has Jose Altuve (who will miss the beginning of the season due to injury), Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Jeremy Pena (among others), having put up big numbers during his career with the Chicago White Sox. Besides the name value, the lineup can hurt teams 1 through 9, with power or timely hitting.
Because of the pressure and experiences the batting order has gone through, opposing pitchers can never take a moment off, as a mistake on a pitch can literally be the difference between winning and losing.
A player who is poised for another big year is right fielder Kyle Tucker, who had 30 home runs and 107 RBIs last season. Tucker also had 25 stolen bases and won a Gold Glove on the defensive end.
2. Pitching depth in the starting rotation and bullpen
There aren’t many teams that could withstand the loss of a pitcher like Justin Verlander (the 2022 Cy Young Award winner), but if there is one, it would be the Astros. With Verlander gone, the team is left with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, José Urquidy, Luis Garcia in the rotation. Valdez has stuff that can have him in the running for the 2023 Cy Young, and Javier is a strong No. 2. What’s scary about Houston’s starting rotation is they could get better as the season goes along, depending on how soon they get Lance McCullers Jr. back.
As for the bullpen, that part of the Astros is consider one of the best in baseball (if not the best), led by closer Ryan Pressly. In the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the bullpen came in to combine on a no-hitter in Game 4, and helped limit a Phillies lineup who was on fire to three runs in the final three games of the series.
With the starting rotation getting used to new roles after the departure of Verlander, the bullpen will be key to stabilizing the waters and eating up innings during the start and middle of the season. It helps to have the one of the best assemblies of pitching depth intact for the task.
1. Manager Dusty Baker
Yes, the players are important, and no manger is where they are in historic ranks without their players executing the game plans. With that said, we have seen cases where managers have put their clubs in bad positions because of poor decisions based on analytical data. On the way to his first World Series win, Baker put together a master class on how to balance the analytics with knowing what his hitters and pitchers can do in the toughest situations.
There were times when Dusty Baker could have pulled starters when the first sign of trouble hit, which is what numbers would tell him to do. Instead, he decided to believe in the men, and Houston was rewarded with results that led to a championship.
It’s been said managers and coaches can’t win titles, but they can lose them. I’ll be the first to say that’s a lie, because Baker showed a team can win because of the choices managers make last season.
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