GREAT EXPECTATIONS

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

All the reasons the Astros should finish with the best record in baseball
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy are out for the season.Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston starters Cristian Javier and José Urquidy are both scheduled to have right elbow surgery, a big blow to an Astros team trying to rebound after a terrible start to the season.

General manager Dana Brown made the announcement Wednesday, saying Urquidy will have surgery Wednesday while Javier's is set for Thursday.

“Right now, they are both having an elbow surgery,” Brown said. “We’re not sure to the extent of it, but Tommy John is certainly a possibility talking with both of them.”

Both players will miss the entire season and would miss part of next season if Tommy John surgery is needed, with the typical recovery from the ulnar collateral ligament replacement surgery taking 12-18 months.

Recovery from internal brace, which uses artificial material to make the repair, has allowed pitchers to return to the majors in as little as nine months.

The Astros already were dealing with injuries to their rotation, with starters Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers not pitching yet this season because of injuries and not expected to return until after the All-Star break.

But Brown said he believes the Astros' rotation, which is led by Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, will be just fine despite the injuries because Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Ronel Blanco have filled in nicely.

“Losing Urquidy and Javier is tough, but thank God, we have the young kids stepping up and they’re starting to throw the ball well,” Brown said. “So I think our rotation's pretty good right now. You never want to lose those type of arms, but there’s no panic because our guys are really throwing well.”

Houston, which has reached the AL Championship Series in each of the last seven seasons, entered Wednesday's games in third place in the AL West with a 28-34 record.

Brown said the injuries won't change how he approaches things leading up to the trade deadline on July 30.

“We’re always in the market for pitching because of reasons like this,” he said. “I’ve been in baseball for 34 years and I know how long and how tough the season is. It’s a grind of 162 and so we’re always in the market of claiming pitchers... and we’re always trying to add to the depth. And so it’s business as usual, we don’t wait until things fall apart before we find answers.”

Urquidy hasn’t pitched this season after straining his right forearm in spring training. He appeared close to coming off the injured list before he left a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Sugar Land with right elbow inflammation on May 24.

The 29-year-old had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and made his big league debut two years later. He was 3-3 with a 5.29 ERA in 10 starts and six relief appearances last season.

In five major league seasons, Urquidy is 27-16 with a 3.98 ERA in 70 starts and nine relief appearances.

Javier was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA in seven starts for Houston this season. He was placed on the injured list with right forearm discomfort on May 24.

The 27-year-old is 33-18 with a 3.59 ERA in 116 career appearances with 82 starts over five MLB seasons.

___

This story has been corrected to show that the elbow surgery Javier and Urquidy are both facing might not be Tommy John surgery.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome