In one of their franchise’s best seasons since moving from the National League Central to the American League West, the Houston Astros put up a valiant effort in the playoffs last season, falling to the eventual World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox. While seeing how close the team was to making that next step, that series also afforded the team a valued look into what other pieces need to be put in place to compete with the Red Sox on the biggest stage.
On the backs of their fantastic starting rotation that consisted of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel, the team not only won the AL West in convincing fashion but also pushed the Red Sox to the brink a few times throughout their series. The likes of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve (who was playing hurt throughout the whole series) and Marwin Gonzalez helped lead this team at the plate and in the field, but ultimately could not get it done.
For 2019, there are a few additions to the roster that will make the difference. Bringing in former Cleveland Indian Michael Brantley is a huge addition, as his defensive prowess in center field will be a much-needed facet that this team desperately needs. Another part of signing Brantley is his willingness to play some first base, helping the Astros increase their positional flexibility.
Currently, two franchise cornerstones are out in free agency and would be huge losses for the team, as they are not looking like they will resign. Keuchel and Gonzalez are both still looking for their next teams, and have most likely priced themselves out of the Astros price range, so they are as good as gone.
With that in mind, here is what the starting lineup for the Astros should look like come Opening Day.
George Springer – OF
Jose Altuve – 2B
Alex Bregman – 3B
Carlos Correa – SS
Yuli Gurriel – 1B
Michael Brantley – CF
Josh Reddick – OF
Tyler White – DH
Robinson Chirinos – C
Both Springer and Reddick can move around in the outfield, but Brantley’s main spot is in center. He has the most speed out of three starting options, which will be a great tool for the oddly-angled outfield of Minute Maid Park.
Here is what the starting rotation will most likely resemble this year too.
#1 Justin Verlander
#2 Gerrit Cole
#3 Collin McHugh
#4 Joshua James
#5 Wade Miley
A wildcard in this process is fireballing prospect Forrest Whitley, who is the team’s best arm currently tearing up the farm system. He is a starter and could easily slide into the role currently occupied by James at this point. Miley, who had a career-resurrecting season for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, was brought in on a cheap deal to help provide back-end coverage for the rotation.
Continuing their domination over their divisional opponents, the Astros should yet again be able to cruise to yet another divisional title, as the Los Angeles Angels will present Houston with their biggest competition, albeit not much. The Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers will fight it out for third, fourth and fifth in the West, and Oakland has the best chances to take bronze out of the three teams, as the Mariners are currently hoarding prospects and slashing money, while the Rangers are trying to figure out exactly what they want their team identity to be and are prolonging a necessary rebuild.
A safe prediction located around 92 wins is a safe bet for the Astros in 2019, as the American League seems to always get tougher and tougher each and every year. While commonly picked to win the division, their projected win totals vary throughout the respective rankings, but 92 is a middle of the road projection that should be met.
This team is absolutely a contender and is most likely the team that would step into the Red Sox’s spot if Boston were to deal with a rash of injuries or bad play at any point this season. Losing both Keuchel and Gonzalez (inevitably) will be a big gap for the team to fill, but they have the pieces to at least bandage over the gap until the trade deadline.
The only way this team manages to fail to meet reasonable expectations is if their departing players, combined with poor play from the rest of the team, occur hand in hand. More of a load will be put on Verlander and Cole to shoulder the load that was carried by Keuchel, and their bullpen is not something that commonly blows opponents away, so their pitching will be the biggest area of concern coming into the year.