Owner: Jim Crane, worth $1.6 billion
World Series Titles: 2017, 2022
Greatest Player: 2B Craig Biggio
Division: AL West
Payroll: 10th, $193,000,000
2022 Result: 106-56, Won the World Series over the Phillies in six games
General Manager: Dana Brown
Manager: Dusty Baker, 73; Record: 2093-1790, 1 World Series Titles (as a manager)
Home Field: Minute Maid Park, Capacity: 41,000
Key Addition: 1B José Abreu. Yuli Gurriel was an aging first baseman who couldn’t get the job done anymore. The Houston Astros replaced him with another aging first baseman. One that will, presumably, get said job done. Even without the massive power that he’s shown in the past, Abreu is still a solidly above-average run producer that can stick in the middle of almost any lineup. They’re going to need to score to stay above the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners who made improvements over the offseason, and he gives them the best shot at doing so.
Key Loss: SP Justin Verlander. One of the greatest pitchers of the generation thanked Houston for believing in him and his brand-new (surgically repaired) elbow, and for allowing him to pitch through his World Series demons on their way to a championship. Then he promptly dipped for New York City to replace the best pitcher in the game. It’d be a lie to say the Astros weren’t better suited to take on such a loss relative to the rest of the league…but it’s still Verlander. Losing an ace of his caliber leaves them with two aces instead of three.
Key Injury: SP Lance McCullers Jr. Once the ace of this Astros team, McCullers has battled both injuries and hiccups amidst Houston’s success. He’s still very solid, with ZiPS projecting a 3.37 ERA and 2.0 Wins Above Replacement. Unfortunately, he won’t be on the 26-man roster for Opening Day, as a muscle strain has popped up. It shouldn’t be an extended absence, but the easiest path for the Astros to mitigate the loss of Verlander is with a big year from McCullers.
Prospect Alert: SP Hunter Brown. The other option for replacing their ace is Brown. An easy top 100 prospect, Brown emulates Verlander from the mechanics to the arsenal. He dominated in the 20.1 Major League innings he threw last season, and then didn’t give up a run in the playoffs either. Talented and battle-tested, Brown helps Houston retain the upside of their rotation and is quickly becoming one of the league’s most fun pitchers to watch.
Scouting Report: There’s no denying it. Since Astroball took over and the wins started piling up, no team in the American League has matched the Astros’ stretch of dominance. Their worst finish in the last six years has been a trip to the ALCS. They’ve racked up two World Series wins, and there’s reason to believe more are on the way.
It all starts with the core that exploded onto the American League scene when Houston shot through the atmosphere into the realm of championship contention. Jose Altuve is still one of the league’s premier second basemen. Alex Bregman has two 8-WAR seasons under his belt at the hot corner. Newer members of the crew like Kyle Tucker and (the embodiment of light tower power) Yordan Alvarez add depth and unreal pop to this lineup. I have concerns about the bottom of the lineup and a season set for disappointment from Jeremy Peña, but this is still a group that can contend with anyone.
Further, it’s unfair how deep this pitching staff is. They still have two legitimate aces in Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier. Brown and McCullers have both shown front-line ability. Luis Garcia and José Urquidy are legitimate middle-rotation arms. If that wasn’t enough, turn your attention to the bullpen. Six relievers project to have an ERA under 4.00. Ryan Pressly is elite. Virtually everyone else has awesome stuff. Even their AAA bullpen has some professional arms.
They’re the favorites to win it all at virtually every sportsbook. I can’t blame them.
Over/Under Wins: 100-62, 1st in AL West, lose to Blue Jays in ALCS
BetBasics Best Bet: Look, if you want to bet on the Astros to win the World Series, I’m not going to stop you. I do think, however, a few other bets offer more value.
The first of which is simply taking the over on the 95.5 wins DraftKings set for them. At -115 odds, the value isn’t ideal, but it’s possible to bank on Houston being really, really good without them bringing home a championship. I’m also not overly concerned about the rising division. For one, they all have serious flaws. Secondly, the balanced schedule has nixed five games against each of those opponents, in favor of NL teams they wouldn’t have otherwise played (Colorado and Washington, I’m looking at you).
Further, their -180 odds to win the West is pretty good. I expected the odds to be a little bit more exaggerated given how vast the talent gap is.
I also like the under on Framber Valdez’s strikeout line at 180.5 (-115). With the amount of pitching depth available, he may not be asked to throw 200 innings like he did last year, when he generated 194 Ks. He’s not a prolific swing and miss guy either. Continuing his dominance with soft-contact and any decrease in innings can very well make up the 15-strikeout drop off we need to hit the under.