5 under-the-radar Astros who could have a big impact on the 2020 season

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

The Astros season will get under way shortly, and expectations should be high, if the season actually plays out. The everyday lineup is pretty much set, but the biggest question remains the starting pitching after Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. If a third elite starter can emerge, the Astros will be a force to be reckoned with. But there are some other players who could help as well. Here are 5 under-the-radar Astros who could have a major impact on the 2020 season:

5) Myles Straw, outfielder: Straw is super fast, and could eventually develop into an everyday player. But he is also a nice situational weapon as a pinch runner. With the new extra inning rule, he could be invaluable starting out at second base in the extra frame. Almost any hit would get him home. This could be a breakout season for Straw.

4) Jose Urquidy, pitcher: Urquidy was an emerging pitcher late last season, and could be one of the arms that could boost the rotation. If he could develop into a solid No. 4 or 3, it would make the season much more interesting. The bad news is he is not yet in camp, presumably because of the Rona. But by mid-season he could be a critical piece of a championship puzzle.

3) Aledmys Diaz, infielder: While not a starter, Diaz was a Marwin Gonzalez-type jack of all trades last season. With Yordan Alvarez not yet in camp, also presumably due to the Rona, Diaz could be a regular starter early in the season. If he performs at a career level, he will find more ways to earn playing time.

2) Josh James, pitcher: James has a big arm, and has shown flashes. This could be the year he puts it all together, either as a starter or in the bullpen. If so, he could be an invaluable weapon.

1) Lance McCullers, pitcher: It might be hard to call McCullers under the radar, but he has not pitched since 2018, has battled injuries, and has become a big question mark. In short, it is hard to count on him as a major contributor. But before his Tommy John surgery, McCullers had ace stuff and had shown flashes when healthy. With a shorter season, he should be available all year, and if he can take the next step and become a third ace, the Astros will be very tough.

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Yordan Alvarez came up big in Game 5. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros can win the pennant Friday night. Can't dangle the carrot any closer in front of the face than that. Taking the last two games at Fenway Park has the Astros in excellent position, but any notion that a third American League championship in five years is now inevitable, is silly. The Astros are probably 80 percent or better to advance, but of course the Red Sox could win games six and seven at Minute Maid Park à la the Nationals in the World Series two years ago. The Astros had all the momentum after winning three straight in D.C., came home for the coronation, and pfffft. You have momentum...until you don't. It's nothing to bank on. The Red Sox had all the "mo" after clobbering the Astros in games two and three of this AL championship series. Then Jose Altuve crushed the eighth inning tying home run in game four, ahead of the seven run volcanic eruption of a ninth inning. Nine more Astro runs later in game five, and here we are.

One key distinction that makes the Astros hand look stronger up 3-2 now than vs. the Nats, the Red Sox don't have Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer ready to pitch. Like Framber Valdez vs. Chris Sale in game five, game six is another starting pitching rematch. Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi grossly outpitched Luis Garcia in game two. We'll see if Sox manager Alex Cora winds up regretting even more using Eovaldi to start the fateful game four ninth inning. Eovaldi only threw 24 pitches, but three nights later we'll see what and how much he has in the tank.

After pitching horribly against the White Sox and then the Red Sox, and then citing a sore knee, Luis Garcia is his own huge question mark. So was Valdez before Wednesday spinning one of the great postseason pitching performances in Astros' history. Framber was awful in each of his first two postseason starts, absolutely magnificent in cruising through eight innings in game five. Should the Sox force Game Seven, Valdez certainly is a relief option on two days rest. Jose Urquidy would start, opposite Eduardo Rodriguez in a game three rematch.

Valdez and the Astros hope his next outing is Tuesday night in game one of the World Series. Ideally, at Minute Maid Park against the Atlanta Braves. Alas, the defending champion Dodgers remain alive and kicking, having won their fourth do or die game already in this postseason to send the National League Championship Series back to Atlanta. Now, if somehow we knew as fact that the Astros are going to win the World Series, I'd estimate approximately 99 percent of Astros' fans would prefer to beat L.A. Since we don't know that the Astros are going to win it all, getting the Braves would be more favorable for the Astros, if for no other reason than the Astros would get home-field advantage. Should the Braves make it, among other factoids Charlie Morton would be in his third World Series with three different teams in the last five seasons (Astros in 2017, Rays last year, Braves this). If the Braves can close out the Dodgers Saturday, Morton is Atlanta's likely game one starter at MMP. Provided the Astros are the AL Champs of course.

Watt a matchup for the Texans

The Texans play at Arizona Sunday. Yeah, and? You imagine that J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins find the two team's current situations amusing? The Texans are a 1-5 stink bomb that will keep on stinking. The Cardinals are 6-0 and an emerging Super Bowl contender. While Deshaun Watson continues collecting about 600 thousand dollars per week to do nothing (and waiting to become a Miami Dolphin?), Kyler Murray has made the leap to upper echelon NFL quarterback.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Decisions, decisions. Astros-Red Sox game 6 or Rockets home opener vs. Thunder. Tough call?

2. The Rockets will regularly be overmatched and probably lose 55 games or more again this season. At least they have young talent to offer some hope. The Texans presently have near nothing.

3. Best 2021 Astros' postseason journey signature food: Bronze-Atlanta/Los Angeles, anything? Silver-Chicago, deep dish pizza Gold-Boston, lobster roll

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