All the reasons the Astros should finish with the best record in baseball

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I can give you 30 reasons why the Houston Astros will win the American League West for the fourth time in a row, take the American League pennant for the third time in four years and repeat as the winningest team in all of baseball:

The Astros roster. I don't care who's in the other dugout, I'll take our guys.

Lost amid the craziness and scandal over sign-stealing and punishment, this team is loaded with returning All-Stars and should've-been All-Stars last season. No other team in MLB has a batting order packed (at least 1-7) with proven great players like Houston. True, a month into the season, I'll only have 26 reasons why the Astros will find their way back to the World Series. It's not that my confidence will wane, baseball will allow only 26 players on rosters after four weeks.

Sure the Dodgers and Yankees have added superstars, but don't they do that every year? And still come up short? While the Astros stood pat, let's remember that the Astros might be defending World Series champs if not for a bonehead managerial decision in Game 7 last year. The Astros were leading the Washington Nationals, 2-1, with pitcher Zack Greinke cruising. Eight outs from planning another World Series parade in downtown Houston, with 20-game winner Gerrit Cole warm in the bullpen, manager A.J. Hinch summoned Will Harris in from the pen and … no need to stir up painful memories. Cole never got in the game and soon was outta here for a massive 9-year, record-breaking contract with the Yankees.

Let's focus on the present: the Astros are ready to tighten their grip atop the American league, starting tonight (8:10 on ATT SportsNet Southwest) with Justin Verlander on the mound against the Seattle Mariners. Let's hope conductor Bobby Dynamite has his train over the Crawford Boxes fully charged. Yes, despite no fans, no hot dogs or spittin' sunflower seeds, the locomotive will be chugging back and forth with every Astros run scored.

The Astros infield boasts four All-Star caliber sluggers: first-baseman Yuli Gurriel (31 homers, 104 RBI, .298 batting average); second baseman Jose Altuve (31 homers, .298); shortstop Carlos Correa (21 homers) and third baseman Alex Bregman (41 home runs, 112 RBI, .296, MVP runner-up).

Two All-Stars return to the Astros outfield: Michael Brantley (90 RBI, .311) and George Springer (39 Springer dingers, 96 RBI, .292 as the leadoff hitter!) Last year's rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez (27 homers, .313) will be back … if and when.

The pitching staff returns Justin Verlander (21 wins, Cy Young Award), Greinke (8-1 with Astros last year) and Josh James (5-1). Plus the electric Lance McCullers Jr. is back from injury. If McCullers stays healthy, he can fill much of the void left by Cole. The bullpen is adequate with Roberto Osuna (2.63 ERA) and Ryan Pressly (2.32). Cool and calm new manager Dusty Baker is made for a suddenly veteran team like the 2020 Astros.

The Astros had the best record in hardball last year, 107-55. They finished 10 games in front of the Oakland A's. They're formidable, but a threat? Consider only one Oakland A's position player would start for the Astros: MVP candidate shortstop Marcus Semien. Charlie Pallilo says A's first baseman Matt Olson would send Gurriel to the bench, but I don't see it. Yuli is an amazing hitter with runners on base, drove in 13 more runs than Olson and hit 30 points higher. La Piña's bobblehead is a Toy Museum Hall of Famer.

The Angels will be improved with the addition of former Lamar High School standout Anthony Rendon and the return of two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani to full service. But the Angels were a distant 35 games behind the Astros last season. That's too much to make up.

With MLB expanding the number of playoff teams to 16, the 2020 season really will be an NBA-style seeding tournament for the post-season: the top two teams in the six divisions, plus the two next-best records in each league. That's 16 out of 30 teams qualifying for the playoffs. That's not baseball, that's hockey. What's next, participation trophies for the Detroit Tigers?

Vegas has the Astros as third choice to win the World Series at 11-1 odds, behind the Dodgers and Yankees (both 7-2). I'm all over the Astros. Vegas also has Alex Bregman (7-2) as the first Astro to get plunked this year, followed by Correa and Altuve (both 4-1) and Springer (9-2). I'll go with Springer, only because he'll be the first in the batter's box. Might as well get the inevitable out of the way.

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The latest odds in Vegas have Ohio State QB CJ Stroud as the favorite to be drafted number one overall by the Carolina Panthers. If Vegas is correct and Stroud is selected by the Panthers, does that make Bryce Young a lock to be drafted by the Texans at No. 2?

We asked draft expert Lance Zierlein that exact question, and he believes it's a forgone conclusion that if Young is there for the Texans at No.2, he will be the pick.

But what if the opposite happens, the Panthers take Young and Stroud is there for the Texans. Should we assume the Texans would draft Stroud in this scenario?

This is where things get tricky. In theory, yes. But Zierlein isn't convinced that Stroud would be the no-brainer selection based on the Texans dealings with Stroud's agent, David Mulugheta, who also represents Deshaun Watson. And we all know how that played out. Watson got a huge payday from the Texans, and then forced his way out of town, leaving Houston with a salary cap mess.

Be sure to check out the video above as the guys share their thoughts on how this could all go down.

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Listen to The Bench with John and Lance weekdays from 7-10AM on ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

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