AL West Preview: Houston Astros

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Marwin Gonzalez
HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Marwin Gonzalez /

The Houston Astros personified are a 6’5″ high school quarterback named Thad. The Seattle Mariners, and us fans, are the wire frame glasses-donning nerd who supports Thad’s lunch fund. Let’s just say, there are plenty of swirlies to go around in 2018.

Are we on the same page? We are? Good, because that 6’5″ bully just grew another three inches and gained 30 pounds of muscle over the Winter. Yeah, things aren’t looking so great our friendly neighborhood Mariners.

Barring injury, the Astros will leave the Mariners in the dust toward their second AL West championship in as many years. The Astros, simply put, are probably the best team in the entire MLB. They are, quite frankly, what the Cubs should have been (and still could be, honestly).

A healthy balance of young superstars and older proven commodities led the Astros to their first title in team history last season. It was well-deserved, not only for the team itself but the city as a whole in their recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

For the Astros, their cast of champions have been carried over for the upcoming season. They have the 2017 AL MVP. They have the 2015 AL Cy Young. The best part for them, however, may be that their young talent is just now hitting their primes.

While the face of the Astros is the aforementioned defending MVP, Jose Altuve, the player that stands out the most to me is outfielder George Springer. Now entering his fourth full season with the club, Springer is infamous in Seattle for his countless lead-off homers against the Mariners. Springer doesn’t only torment the M’s, though — in 2017, he slashed .283/.367/.522 with 34 ‘Springer Dingers’ and 85 ribbies. He’s a monster, but with guys like Altuve and Carlos Correa sharing the spotlight, Springer becomes more of an after-thought when talking about the Astros.

Last year’s veteran additions like Brian McCann and Josh Reddick proved to be nice fits. Both come with weaknesses, and the former and latter are polar opposites of one another. McCann was an average-to-below average hitter last year, per usual, but provided great defense behind the plate. Reddick, on the other hand, posted an average UZR in the outfield while having the best offensive season of his career, per wRC+ (127).

On the pitching front, Sir Lance McCullers Jr., second of his name, destroyer of Mariners, is suddenly fourth in the ‘Stros rotation. World Series hero Charlie Morton is their number five.

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Houston was able to add two quality veteran starters in Justin Verlander last August, and Gerrit Cole this offseason, without sacrificing the heart of their farm system. They still have two prospects in’s top 20. Meaning, if they so desired, they still have bullets to acquire even more talent through trades.

At the top of the rotation is Dallas Keuchel. Last season, the bearded wonder bounced back from a poor 2016 campaign. Keuchel missed some time with a neck injury but still posted a 3.32 xFIP in 145.2 innings of work.  If Keuchel can keep his health in check and log similar numbers, the Astros may have 3-4 ace-tier pitchers in their rotation. As if they needed more help.

Their starting rotation will likely be constructed as:

  1. Dallas Keuchel

  2. Justin Verlander

  3. Gerrit Cole

  4. Lance McCullers Jr.

  5. Charlie Morton

“Ty, do the Astros have ANY weaknesses?”

Well, reader, let me put it this way… no. Okay, maybe.

The Astros bullpen was actually pretty inconsistent last year. All-Star Chris Devenski was their year-long crutch, but fell back to Earth after a great first half last year. Ken Giles reclaimed some of the success he had in Philadelphia as the closer, but still hasn’t been worth the cost of admission. Will Harris, who has seemed un-hittable to Mariners fans, was pretty average for the majority of his 2017 crusade.

Top prospect Derek Fisher (no, not that Derek Fisher) is slated to be the Astros Opening Day left fielder. In his 166 at-bats last year, Fisher struggled to the tune of an 82 wRC+. Fisher, however, has hit extremely well at every level of the Astros’ Minor League system and should get things turned around with more playing time at the MLB level.

The Astros’ current projected lineup looks like this:

  1. CF George Springer

  2. 3B Alex Bregman

  3. 2B Jose Altuve

  4. SS Carlos Correa

  5. RF Josh Reddick

  6. 1B Yulieski Gurriel

  7. DH Evan Gattis

  8. C Brian McCann

  9. LF Derek Fisher

Familiar faces Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez will also be rotating in there rather frequently. No matter how the lineup is exactly constructed, it should strike fear into Mariners pitchers. It should fear into any pitcher, for that matter. While there is a slight drop-off after 1-5, Gurriel, Gattis, McCann, and Fisher have a lot of power and can change a game with one swing of the bat. No pitcher should feel comfortable after Reddick swings.

It’s going to be a tough 19 games for a questionable Mariners pitching staff.

Last year, the Mariners went 5-14 against the Astros. Expect similar results this year as the Mariners have stood pat while the Astros have somehow gotten even better.

Next: AL West Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

You all should know this by now, but the only way the Mariners will end their playoff drought this year is through the wild card. This is the Astros’ division, and will be for quite some time. They’re simply too good.