Looking good in Vegas

MLB projected win totals are coming out and the Astros sit alone at the top

Vegas thinks the Astros will be celebrating again. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Does Vegas know something that we don't? Or better yet, does Vegas know something that we are hoping for, that the rest of MLB might not yet be aware of? With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring training in less than a month, Sportsbooks and Vegas insiders are starting to come out with their predictions and projections for the upcoming season. Caesar's was the first to release their team by team win/loss totals and the Astros were at the top of their list with 97.5 wins, more than any other team in baseball. Shortly after Caesar's released its best guesses, BetOnline.ag came out with its predictions for the season and although it had Houston at 96.5 wins, it was still good enough for the top spot in all of MLB for their final outlook as well. Roto Champ had the Astros a league-best 98-64 and winners of the A.L. West division. The experts have spoken and your Astros are the talk of prognosticators who predict Major League Baseball.

Not only is it a good sign that Houston is being pegged for the best record in baseball, but it's an even better signal that Alex Bregman is going to be OK and on schedule to return from his arm surgery. I say that because two of the three services that made the Astros their top dog, did so after Bregman's surgery was announced. It also says something for what might still be coming Houston's way in free agency and maybe via trade. We all know there are plenty of good players that remain out there on the open market in free agency and with spring training right around the corner, time is running out and deals need to be made. There are also several talented and proven veteran players that are being shopped in potential trade discussions. The fact that Jeff Luhnow and his staff are not only in the mix on almost every big named starting pitcher in both of those categories, but also for guys like all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto and all world outfielder Bryce Harper. Whether they land any of those possibilities or stand pat, the future looks very bright for the hometown nine this coming season as long as they are healthy.

The only thing that seemed to prevent the Astros from repeating last season was a series of injuries to their "core four" late in the year. All those ailments seem to be in the past as the squad prepares for 2019. Jose Altuve and his knee, George Springer and his thumb, as well as Carlos Correa and his back are all expect to be 100% when they arrive at camp next month. Bregman may need a little more time but fully expects to be ready when the games count to start the season. With that potent lineup back at full strength and the additions of all-star outfielder Michael Brantley and former Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos, they should have more than enough offense to instill fear in opposing pitchers all season long. With Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole at the top of the rotation and Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna in the bullpen, if Luhnow can add another starter or two this team should be more than ready to live up to the high expectations and predictions our friends in Vegas have put out there. I can't wait for opening day. Let's play ball!

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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