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!

Justin Verlander will get the Opening Day nod. Bob Levey/Getty Images

If you're not into basketball, or maybe just not into college basketball until March Madness gets here or the NBA until playoff time, man is this a sucky time of the sports year.

It will soon get better, with the Astros like all Major League teams having thrown open the doors to spring training. Less than six weeks away now to Opening Day, for the Astros that will be in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Barring a spring misfortune either way the Opening Day matchup will have American League Cy Young Award runner-up Justin Verlander pitching opposite AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. In game two Gerrit Cole will certainly go for the Astros, you'd think the Rays counter with their 30 million dollar free agent addition, ex-Astro Charlie Morton.

The biggest roster issues for the Astros to decide in Florida, aren't very big. Who wins the job as fifth man in the starting rotation? Going in that's seemingly advantage Josh James with Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock as the alternatives. For now. Someone who is part of the Astros' rotation once the season gets here is a placeholder. Unless something goes wrong, super stud prospect Forrest Whitley arrives in the majors this year, though not until at least June. Barring a dire need, the Astros will keep Whitley in the minors long enough to push back his salary arbitration eligibility a year. The Astros also have a last spot or two in their bullpen to determine.

Among the non-pitchers, the single biggest story line should be Carlos Correa's back. Correa was simply a bad player while ailing the second half of last season. It would be a horrible thing if at 24 years old Correa has recurring back problems. If he does not one would presume he gets back on track toward superstardom. Jose Altuve should be fine coming off knee surgery, the same expected for Alex Bregman working back from elbow surgery.

As in life few things in baseball are guaranteed. But given good health and their seemingly weak AL West competition, as the Astros start spring training, they're close to a guarantee to end up in the postseason for the third year in a row.

Cougars keep rolling

It's 24-1 for the Houston Cougars after they ground down UConn in the second half Thursday night. Sunday they play at the joke that is Tulane (4-19, 0-11 in conference). When the new polls come out Monday UH will move up to at least number seven in the nation.The Coogs are clearly the biggest college hoops story in Texas this season, but props to Sam Houston State. The Bearkats enter the weekend as one of only four teams in Division One undefeated in conference play. The other three: Tennessee, Gonzaga, and…Wofford.

Texans miss out?

So when it comes to your sports teams, how flexible is your morality? The Texans could use an upgrade at running back. Lamar Miller had a decent 2018 season, though he faded down the stretch with four straight ineffective performances. Yes the Texans offensive line was terrible, but a better back than Miller would presumably have been more productive. If the Texans keep Lamar Miller for 2019 his salary is five and a half million dollars.

Until Monday, Kareem Hunt was available, for roughly 20 to 25 percent of Miller's salary. Then the Cleveland Browns signed him. As a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017 Hunt led the NFL in rushing. He was having another fantastic season in 2018, when a video surfaced of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel last February. Turned out Hunt had lied to the Chiefs about the incident and they decided to release him. Hunt is currently on NFL suspension. He will come off though and the Browns will then add a sensational talent on the cheap. Hunt signed a one year deal reportedly for about one million dollars which actually will be a raise for him over what his original Kansas City contract would have paid.

So the Texans could have had Hunt for, say, a million and a half. They'd have added a running back more explosive than the Texans have ever had. And saved about four million dollars in the process by cutting Miller. Would you have signed Hunt? Or would no player guilty of such loser punk behavior ever have a place on your team?

There is no indication that the Texans showed interest. But don't go crazy proclaiming them paragons of integrity. In 2017 the Texans celebrated Brian Cushing's return from his second NFL suspension for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. They recently hired Cushing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Morality judgments come on a sliding scale.

Buzzer Beaters

1. James Harden's ongoing streak of 30+ point games is astounding. The extreme ball domination also often makes the Rockets a tedious watch. 2. The Rockets hit the All Star Break one game closer to the draft lottery than to third place in the West. That is stunning, though there is virtually no way they miss the playoffs. Right? 3. NBA Valentine's Day shout-outs: Bronze-Kevin and Bob Love Silver-Roses: Jalen, Derrick, and Malik Gold-Valentines: Denzell and Darnell.

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