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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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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