The Houston Astros won 101 games last season on their way to capturing the franchise’s first ever World Series title. Led by American League MVP Jose Altuve, Houston utilized a potent offense and strong rotation to put up impressive results all season long. However, the postseason was no cakewalk as the team had to rally from a 3-2 deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS before winning Game 7 of the World Series on the road.
The Astros were a special team last year with many players coming up big in the brightest moments of the season. The question heading into 2018 is can they do it again and win back-to-back championships?
Houston Astros 2018 Season Preview
Can Altuve capture back-to-back MVP awards?
Some may argue that Altuve benefited from an injury to Mike Trout that limited the Angles OF to 114 games, but Altuve’s numbers speak for themselves. He led all of MLB in batting average (.346), total WAR (8.3), and finished second in hits (204). Altuve complemented those numbers with a .410 OBP, .547 slugging percentage, 24 home runs, 112 runs scored, 39 doubles, and 32 steals. 2017 marked Altuve’s fourth straight season of at least 200 hits and 30 steals, all accomplished before his 28th birthday.
Altuve is truly one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the game, alongside Trout, and the leader of the Astros. There could be an incredibly tight race for the MVP award next season between Trout, Aaron Judge, and AL-newcomer Giancarlo Stanton, but Altuve should continue to put up impressive numbers in Houston. As long as Altuve continues to play to his ability, he should be in the thick of the MVP race with Houston fighting for another deep postseason run.
Houston’s rotation could be one of the best in the league
Dallas Keuchel was the leader of Houston’s rotation last season, but the rest of the rotation was a mixed bag at times. Charlie Morton contributed a solid season with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts. Lance McCullers was inconsistent with a 4.25 ERA over 22 starts, but the young right-hander showed plenty of promise. The big story last season was the acquisition of Justin Verlander before the trade deadline. Many pointed to that trade as the move that transformed the Astros from contenders to the team to beat in October, and the move paid off. Verlander went 5-0 down the stretch with a 1.06 ERA. In the postseason, Verlander picked up four wins, including a masterful performance in Game 6 of the ALCS.
Not content to rest on the 2017 performance of the rotation, Houston went out and made the move to acquire SP Gerrit Cole in January. Quite frankly, the move could make Houston’s rotation the best in baseball. Keuchel, Verlander, and Cole should be penciled into the first three spots in the rotation, and that trio is definitely capable of going toe-to-toe with any other trio in MLB. The fourth and fifth spots present an interesting but good dilemma as the Astros currently have multiple options.
Morton had a solid season in 2017, but he produced numbers he had not seen since 2014. Expecting him to post a similar performance in 2018, at age 34, may be unwise. McCullers will likely get an opportunity in the No. 4 spot of the rotation with a chance to develop more consistency this season. Brad Peacock is another pitcher who excelled in a variety of situations for Houston last season. He contributed a 3.00 ERA in 34 appearances that included 21 starts. Collin McHugh is another player that could have an impact on the rotation if he remains with Houston, but he has reportedly drawn trade interest from teams. As it currently stands, look for some combination of McCullers, Peacock, and Morton to round out the last two rotation spots.
Can Carlos Correa produce a full season of his 2017 numbers?
Let’s be honest, Correa is already a superstar caliber player with two, 6.0 WAR seasons before his age-23 season. The problem for Correa in 2017 was a thumb injury that forced him to miss time and ultimately limited him to 109 games. Yet despite missing time, Correa still set career-high marks in home runs (24), runs scored (82), and WAR (6.3). He also slashed .315/.391/.550 with 25 doubles, 84 RBI, and 53 walks.
Correa could be one of Altuve’s biggest competitors for the MVP if he is able to stay healthy and build off of his 2017 success. Houston is definitely blessed with the best 2B-SS combination in baseball, and last year may have been just a small glimpse of greater things still to come.
Winning a championship is never easy, and repeating as champions may be even harder. With that being said, Houston returns pretty much all of its firepower and bolstered the rotation with the addition of Cole. It is pretty clear that Houston is still the team to beat heading into the 2018 season.
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