FALCON POINTS

5 reasons the Astros will win the World Series in a shortened season

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Now that baseball has a plan for a season, we can begin to speculate on just how it will play out. While the Yankees and Dodgers are the betting favorites, the Astros are the third choice. (And yes, here is our IF THE SEASON HAPPENS AT ALL disclaimer).

Amid all the cheating scandal fallout, people forget just how good this Astros team was last season, coming within a game of a second World Series in three years. They have been to the ALCS three straight years. Yes, they lost one of their top two pitchers to a key rival in the Yankees, but will Gerrit Cole be the same pitcher in New York's environment and now that he has a big contract? And the Astros might still have the best 1-2 punch in baseball in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Forget whether or not they are likable; they cheated and got punished, no question. Maybe not being able to cheat will impact them, but then again, every other team was doing it, so it will impact them as well.

Regardless, this is likely the last run for the team as they are constructed, but there is reason to believe there may be another World Series in their future. In fact, here are five key reasons:

1) The short season will be a positive for the starting pitching.

Verlander would have missed a big chunk of a full season but now he will be presumably healthy. Coming off a Cy Young season, he still has it and should be more effective in the postseason with far fewer regular season starts. Lance McCullers, coming off Tommy John surgery, should be available for the full season and playoffs. There is no guarantee he comes back 100 percent, but if he does and stays healthy, he has always had ace-caliber stuff. It will be easier to fill out the four and five slots in a short season. A mediocre pitcher can get hot for a stretch and help carry them. If not, they can always add an arm for the stretch run. They won't be as dominant as last season without Cole, but there is no reason they can't be good enough to win it all.

2) It helps the bullpen, too.

The back end is fairly solid with Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, and the short season should be a boon to them as well. Relievers tend to become less effective at the end of a long season and in the playoffs. The 60-game slate should keep them fresh for when the real games start.

3) The offense is still outstanding.

Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve, etc. are still terrific baseball players, trash can or no. The lineup is so good, they won't need career years from everyone. The hitters match up well with the Dodgers and Yankees and runs should be no problem. And if Yordan Alvarez can improve in year two...

4) A full season for Correa?

Carlos Correa has been an enigma. He has MVP talent, but injuries have kept him from having that kind of season. With only 60 games, maybe he can stay healthy the whole way, and take that giant leap we have all been waiting for. If he does, and the rest of the bats just come close to their career averages, this will be the best offense in baseball.

5) No fans? No problem.

As much as the Astros players insist they would like fans in the stands, the reality is many of them wanted no part of the heckling they were going to get over the cheating scandal. Baseball players in general can be fragile mentally; enough words can get in their head and impact their play. With empty stadiums, that will not happen. It's almost found money that they won't have to deal with it.

Overall, the Dodgers and Yankees deserve to be favorites. But a rough stretch during a short season and one of them could struggle to make the playoffs. (Of course, that is true of the Astros as well). And even so, the Astros still match up very well this season. So those who choose to focus on the cheating scandal might be missing the bigger picture - this team is still among the best in baseball, and a serious threat to win another World Series.

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With the disappointing loss in extra innings late the night before, the Astros returned to RingCentral Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to try and even the series against the A's, who now owned a 3.5 game lead in the AL West over Houston. Here is a quick rundown of the middle game of the series:

Final Score: A's 3, Astros 1.

Record: 6-8, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Frankie Montas (2-1, 1.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (0-2, 2.04 ERA).

Valdez does his job

Framber Valdez ran into stress early on Saturday, facing trouble in the bottom of the first inning. It started with a leadoff solo home run, putting Oakland up 1-0 before they would record an out. He later allowed back-to-back one-out singles to rack up his pitch count in the frame but would limit the damage to the single run.

He was able to re-focus and settle in during the following innings, getting quick, scoreless innings in the next four. In the bottom of the sixth, a leadoff groundball that likely should have been the first out was instead a single that would come back to bite Houston. That runner stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw, then scored on an RBI-groundout, doubling Oakland's lead to 2-0. Valdez would go one more inning, giving Houston precisely what they needed by helping give their exhausted bullpen a break. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 HR.

Houston's offense unable to get anything going

Unfortunately for Houston, Frankie Montas was even more efficient on the other side. Houston was only able to notch two hits against him over seven innings while Montas only had to throw 86 pitches over that span. Oakland would go to their bullpen in the top of the eighth, with the Astros getting just a single in the inning.

Nivaldo Rodriguez would take over for Valdez in the bottom of the eighth and allowed a solo home run to make it 3-0 before completing the inning. Houston would get a leadoff double by Kyle Tucker to start the top of the ninth, and he would come around to score on an RBI-single by Alex Bregman. That's as close as Houston would get, though, as Oakland would finish off the win to secure the series and extend Houston's losing streak to four games.

Up Next: The final game of this series and Houston's nine-game road trip will be on Sunday at 3:10 PM Central. Jesus Luzardo (0-0, 2.31 ERA) will make a start for the A's while Cristian Javier (1-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his success in 2020 for the Astros.

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