Houston Astros 2017 Team Preview

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The Astros did not quite live up to expectations in 2016, but they may be primed for a run deep into the postseason in 2017. Here is what to look for.

Last season, the Houston Astros were initially viewed as a contender. They came off of a playoff appearance in 2015, and had some stars emerge. Unfortunately, it didn’t all pan out. They missed the playoffs and finished in third place in the American League West. With everything that happened, their 84-78 record was respectable.

Starting Rotation Struggles

Their starting rotation was not the same in 2016. Reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel went 9-12 with 4.55 earned run average, a far cry from his magnificent season in 2015. Collin McHugh also saw his earned run average inflate. In fact, the Astros’ rotation had a tough time with giving up runs. Lance McCullers was the only starter with an earned run average under 4.00. If the Astros want to compete, they need to have their starting rotation in top form, because their offense won’t be the one hurting.

Bright Spots

Their offensive weapons were explosive in 2016. Jose Altuve, a 2016 Most Valuable Player candidate, had another spectacular season. He hit 24 home runs and drove in 96 runs while batting .338. His speed on the base paths helped him swipe 30 bases and his 7.7 wins above replacement led the team.

Along with Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer had productive seasons. Correa batted .274 to go along with 20 home runs and 96 runs batted in. His 5.9 wins above replacement was second on the team. Springer blasted 28 home runs and drove in 82 runs while batting .261. Alex Bregman, a young superstar in the making, will suit up for his first full MLB season in 2017. Each of the Astros’ offensive stars from last season is still young, giving them something to look forward to this season.

Their bullpen last season saw three hurlers rack up 12 or more saves. Ken Giles piled up 15 saves while striking out 102 batters in 65.2 innings. He had some help in the ninth inning from Luke Gregerson and Will Harris. Gregorson put up 15 saves in 57.2 innings while striking out 67 batters. Harris tallied 12 saves of his own with a 2.25 earned run average, the lowest of the three.

The Astros went into 2017 looking to build their roster to get back into the postseason. Here are the moves they decided to make to get there.

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Key Acquisitions

The Astros made some key moves this offseason in order to not disappoint this season. They beefed up at catcher and were able to replace departed outfielders, along with bringing in a valuable veteran presence. The Astros haven’t been buyers much in recent years, but the chance for a championship may have driven them to make the push.

Catcher

Last season, the Astros struggled at catcher. Jason Castro was hard to watch at the plate, batting a skeletal .210 with 11 home runs and 32 runs batted in. Since 2013, Castro’s numbers at the plate have dipped to levels where he is not a productive starting catcher anymore (unless you are the Minnesota Twins). So the Astros traded for All-Star catcher Brian McCann.

McCann is not the catcher he used to be, but he is a step up from Castro. He brings more offense and a veteran presence that a young Astros team could benefit from. In 2016 with the Yankees, he hit .242 with 20 home runs and 58 runs batted in. Another year like that, and he will be able to effectively fill the hole behind the plate in Houston.

Outfield

The outfield got a makeover this offseason after the departure of key players. The Astros were able to replenish their corps with the acquisitions of Josh Reddick and Nori Aoki. Reddick signed a four-year deal worth $52 million. In 115 games, he hit .281 with 10 home runs and 37 runs batted in. When healthy, Reddick is capable of hitting 20-plus home runs and being a valuable piece in the outfield defensively. If he stays healthy, the Astros will be pleased with his production.

Aoki was waived by Seattle, but the Astros picked him up. Aoki can hit for average, hitting .283 in 2016. His power numbers aren’t anything spectacular, but he is valuable in the outfield. He has a career .992 fielding percentage. He is good for base hits and solid defense, which makes him valuable on a team that can drive guys in once they get on base.

Veteran Leadership and Another Starter

The Astros brought back a productive player from their past with the signing of Carlos Beltran. Beltran helped out with the Astros’ 2004 playoff run and is still a valuable piece to any team he is on. He hit .295 with 29 home runs and 93 runs batted in while splitting his time with the Yankees and Rangers. He will be the primary designated hitter this season and will provide pop and leadership to a young and powerful lineup.

To bolster their pitching staff, the Astros picked up Charlie Morton. Morton only pitched in four games for the Phillies last season and hasn’t been overly impressive during his time in the majors. He adds an arm to a rotation that has a chance at improving from its less than stellar 2016.

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Significant Players Lost

The Astros had some key players depart this offseason, but were able to fill the voids through free agency and trades.

Colby Rasmus

The big departure for the Astros this offseason was outfielder Colby Rasmus. His 2016 season was not as good as the season before in Houston, but he was still a valuable part of the lineup. Rasmus, now in Tampa Bay, is replaced by Reddick in 2017, which is a step up. Rasmus only hit .206 last season with 15 home runs and 54 runs batted in. The power numbers are there, but getting on base consistently is not, which is a problem. With a lineup that can drive in runs from top to bottom, you don’t a need a player who can’t reach base. That made him the odd man out in Houston.

Jason Castro

Castro is not the catcher he used to be. Hitting .210 with limited power numbers will not keep a guy around, and the Astros were able to find a better catcher by trading for McCann. Castro will now serve as the backstop for the Minnesota Twins, a team with which his struggling offensive play will fit right in. Catcher was one of the few spots besides pitching that needed improvement, and the Astros filled it with someone new, leaving Castro to find a home elsewhere.

While the Astros had key players from last season depart, they were players that were already being replaced in the Astros’ current plans. They brought in players that are an improvement, leaving these guys with no reason to stay. The Astros did what they needed to this offseason by improving their weak spots. That mean there would be departures. Overall, the Astros shouldn’t be too worried about the players that left, unlike other teams who lost big parts of their lineups.

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Projections

If the Astros’ rotation can return to its 2015 form, the team will be in good shape. They will have an explosive offense with Altuve, Correa and Springer and added pop with Beltran. With their weak spots filled, the Astros are ready to make a deep playoff run. Look for them to compete with the Rangers for the American League West crown.

Rotation:

  1. Dallas Keuchel
  2. Collin McHugh
  3. Lance McCullers
  4. Mike Fiers
  5. Charlie Morton

Bullpen:

Middle Relief: Tony Sipp / James Hoyt / Brady Rodgers

Long Relief: Michael Feliz / Jandel Gustave

Setup: Luke Gregerson / Will Harris

Closer: Ken Giles

2017 Starting Lineup:

2B Altuve
3B Bregman
SS Correa
CF Springer
DH Beltran
C McCann
RF Reddick
1B Gurriel
LF Aoki

Predictions:

The Astros are looking good on paper. The rotation has the potential to bounce back from its rough 2016, and if it does, it will be one of the scariest rotations in baseball. Their lineup will propel them to new heights with its ability to score runs and get on base. Altuve is an MVP candidate year in and year out and the spark plug this team needs to make a run at the Commissioner’s Trophy. With the help of other young talent like Springer, Correa and Bregman, paired with veteran stars Beltran and McCann, the Astros have a healthy balance in their everyday lineup that brings excitement, power, speed and leadership. Look for the Astros to make a run this season, like Sports Illustrated predicted a few years ago.

2017 Record: 93-69 

Division Rank: First

Playoffs: Yes

Look for the Houston Astros to be at the front of the pack in the American League West. While the Indians and Red Sox have the pitching staffs and deep lineups, the Astros could find a way to sneak by them and take the pennant. It will be tough, but in baseball anything is possible. Houston will be ready for takeoff in 2017.

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