Before any teams took the field in spring training, Sports Illustrated made their World Series pick for the 2017 season. They picked the Houston Astros, who have never won a World Series, yet they finished as one of the best teams in baseball and are ready to make a run at the Commissioner’s trophy.
A lot has changed since SI made their pick. However, the Astros clinched the second seed in the American League, and have the tools to win it all. The magic number for Houston is eleven. Eleven more wins and they are World Series champions.
ASTROS REGULAR SEASON RECAP
In 2013, the Astros went 51-111, finishing dead last in the league. This year they finished 21 games ahead of the second place Angels to win the AL West with an astonishing record of 101-61, the second time in franchise history they reached 100 wins or more. Clearly many things have gone right for the Astros, but it didn’t come easy.
Let’s start with the injuries, which did have a significant impact on the Astros lineup and pitching staff. Carlos Correa suffered a torn ligament in his thumb, where he missed roughly six weeks. Alex Bregman stepped up and played well without Correa, however it did take a little pop out of the lineup. Lance McCullers struggled with a back injury most of the season. He came back without fully recovering, and ended up back on the DL. McCullers had a less than stellar season, winning only 7 games and posting a 4.25 ERA. Several players including Evan Gattis, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick all suffered concussions during the year, and the Astros outfield also took a bit of a beating, with Cameron Maybin spraining his knee, as well as Jake Marisnick and George Springer taking day to day trips to the DL for smaller injuries. Almost everyone is fully recovered, and now the Astros are ready to make a championship run.
The addition of RHP Justin Verlander, 2011 Cy Young award winner, has been a crucial addition to the rotation. He is 5-0 since joining the Astros, and is 18-5 with a 3.36 ERA on the year. The Astros rotation has been solid with few exceptions, yet the bullpen has had their fair share of issues. They do have some good arms in the pen, as well as depth. Chris Devenski wasn’t as strong in the second half of the season after an all star first half, but he and Joe Musgrove will look to shut down opposing teams in the middle innings of postseason games. Tyler Clippard and Luke Gregerson have struggled this year, but with Ken Giles and Will Harris also pitching well recently, A.J. Hinch will have plenty of options in the bullpen.
Despite a few injuries here and there, the Astros lineup still posted some top notch numbers. They batted .282 for the year as a team which led the majors and hit 238 home runs all together. 11 players hit 10 or more home runs, and George Springer led the team with 34 homers of his own. The strikeout numbers are low, and the team also led the MLB in slugging and on base percentage. The Astros definitely have the best offense of any AL playoff team this year, and if the pitching can hold their own in the postseason, the Astros have a very good shot to win the ALCS.
ASTROS VS RED SOX
The Astros first test comes against the Boston Red Sox, who won the AL East over the Yankees. These 2 teams faced off 7 times in the regular season, with the Astros taking four of those games. Houston has the better lineup by a large margin, and their bullpen depth will come in handy against the Red Sox. The Red Sox also have a solid lineup, and a good amount of solid pitching. Chris Sale has been lights out all season, and Drew Pomeranz is set to start game 2. And even if their powerful lineup manages to knock Sale or Pomeranz out of the game, the Sox have Addison Reed, Joe Kelly, and other top notch relief pitchers in the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel will also be a factor in this series, and the Red Sox chances to win are significantly increased if Kimbrel gets the ball with the lead. The Astros will most likely need to take at least one of the first two games if they want to advance.
This will likely be an exciting and competitive battle for a ticket to the ALCS. Two good hitting teams, stacked with several star pitchers including Cy Young winners and lights out relievers, batting champions and Gold Glove winners. Baseball fans, you don’t want to miss this series.
YOU’RE TELLIN’ ME THERE’S A CHANCE?
With some league leading numbers and over 100 wins on the year, the Astros are no doubt a powerhouse team with a legitimate shot at winning it all. Will they? It’s tough to tell. The Boston Red Sox will not go down easily, and the Cleveland Indians did also win over 100+ games, 22 of which came all in a row for the longest streak of wins in MLB history. The NL also has some tough teams in the playoffs, including the defending champion Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Astros do have the tools to win, but they will need to keep the bats hot, and the bullpen will have to pitch as well as they are all capable of pitching. They are still far from a perfect team, but they have the tools to take on the best in the league and win. So yes, 2017 might just be their year.