Houston is the odds-on favorite to win it all

Seriously, will anyone be able to beat the Astros?

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Even before the trade deadline acquisitions, Houston was starting to fire on all cylinders to march back to the top of the power rankings. Now, with Zack Greinke in the rotation, and seeing what Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini can provide as new arms on this pitching staff, the best has gotten better.

With the series sweep of the Mariners over the weekend, that gave them their fifth straight series win. Their last series loss was back at the end of June against the Pirates. Since that series, they have won eight and split two series, going 23-8 during that stretch of games.

Heating up in the summer

It's certainly been a hot summer for many Astros, including Gerrit Cole who is even closer than ever at matching Justin Verlander on top of the Cy Young ballot after two fantastic months that have earned him back-to-back Pitcher of the Month awards.

Sure, Verlander, Cole, and Greinke will get their due attention as the core three of the rotation, but let's not overlook Wade Miley. He has quietly strung together a great stretch of games himself, with his last loss coming on June 17th. His win against the Mariners on Friday moved him to ten wins, and with another good start could see his 3.05 ERA dip below 3.00, giving the Astros four starters with at least ten wins and a sub-3.00 ERA.

Then, there's the offense. Yuli Gurriel won a well-deserved Player of the Month honor with his numbers in July, driving in 31 runs in the month including twelve home runs and hitting for a .398 average over that span. So where does a hot bat like that get put in Houston's lineup? How about seventh. That's right when you've got George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Carlos Correa in your lineup, that puts a bat as hot as Yuli's fighting to even crack the top half of the order.

Getting healthy and better than ever

Two of those guys are looking great since returning from recent injury-list stints: Altuve and Correa. While Correa hasn't had a ton of hits since returning to the lineup, he has shown that his recovery from his rib injury has not affected his power. He has hit three home runs in his eight games back, including the big grand slam in St. Louis against the Cardinals which has helped him notch eight RBIs over those games.

As far as Altuve goes, he's looking like he did back in his 2017 MVP campaign. Since his return from injury, Altuve has been giving fans the type of offense they are accustomed to seeing; hitting .358 with a fantastic 1.025 OPS during that stretch. The recent string of success at the plate also has his average climbing, now back up over .300 despite sitting at a .243 before being sidelined.

And yet, these are just some of the guys having notable above-average success recently. I didn't even mention that Michael Brantley is still in the midst of the batting title race, Alex Bregman is getting walked as much as Mike Trout, or that Yordan Alvarez is on track to win Rookie of the Year.

Oh, and as far as the bullpen goes, not only did they acquire a new arm to reinforce their ranks, they've got guys doing well too. Will Harris has allowed just one run over his last ten appearances, and Chris Devenski is looking more like himself with three straight perfect outings himself. Meanwhile, they should get Ryan Pressly back soon, and will likely see Brad Peacock joining their ranks as well down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Put all this together, and it's no surprise that the books have shaken up over the last week to put the Astros as 2/1 favorites to win it all. But just for argument's sake, let's take a look at a few of the other teams at the top of the odds and consider how a series with them might go.

Let's talk Dodgers and Yankees

First, there's the Dodgers. They currently hold the best overall record in the MLB by way of playing one more game than the Astros. They certainly are a great team; you don't make it to the World Series in back-to-back seasons and be a top contender to do it again unless you have a great roster. They sit second in the World Series odds at 3/1 right behind Houston.

Although he just landed on the IL, they have the only qualified pitcher in baseball with an ERA under 2.00, with Hyun-Jin Ryu currently at 1.53 and an 11-2 record after 21 starts. They also have Clayton Kershaw, who despite his postseason struggles remains one of the best arms in the game. Along with those two, the Dodgers also have a young stud in Walker Buehler, another ten-win pitcher with a 3.22 ERA and decent strikeout numbers.

Then, there are the Yankees, currently with 6/1 odds to win it all. Though injuries have plagued them, they still have a formidable roster that will be a tough out in the playoffs. They have the hitter with the best average in the league in DJ LeMahieu who holds a .336 at this point in the year. If they get their power-hitting trio of Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion, and Giancarlo Stanton together and healthy before the end of the year, they could be trouble for any pitcher, even Houston's aces.

Some other contenders

The only other team with odds better than 10/1 are the Braves at 9/1. They currently lead the NL East by seven games, and while their numbers might not jump off the page as much as other teams, they still have a solid rotation including the 12-4 Max Fried and 10-2 Mike Soroka who boasts a 2.37 ERA which is second-best in the league. They also have a potent offense with guys in their lineup like Freddie Freeman who sits tied for fourth in the league in RBIs at 86, along with Ronald Acuna Jr. who sits tied for eleventh in the league in home runs at 27.

Some of the other teams in the American League besides the Yankees that could make it tough to make it to the World Series in the first place are the Twins and the Rays. The Twins continue to give their fans a surprisingly successful season in 2019, currently atop the AL Central by three games. They have done it primarily through their potent offense, who have hammered out a league-best 216 home runs, the only team over 200 so far this year.

The Rays, on the other hand, though they have a great squad of young hitters, rely more heavily on their pitching. They have allowed just 123 home runs this year, the least by any team, along with the sixth-fewest walks, and the third most strikeouts. They're led by former-Astro Charlie Morton who has the second-best ERA in the AL at 2.78, not too far away from Justin Verlander. We will get a preview of what the matchup of Houston and Tampa Bay could look like in the playoffs later this month, as the Rays will come to Houston for a three-game series.

Behind them there are still some teams that could make runs like the Red Sox, who are not living up to their high expectations going into this year, along with the Cardinals, Brewers, and Indians who are still in the mix.

All of these teams are still looking up at Houston, though, as the Astros could and should be the clear favorites against anyone in a seven-game series when they have a healthy roster. They are too powerful and playing too well, right now, to imagine that any other team could beat them on paper. Still, sports rarely pan out like paper would predict, but it should be a fun few months, and upcoming years, to be an Astros fan.

Getty Images

So the Houston Astros, using cameras and video monitors and a labyrinthine baseball-bat-and-trash-can notification system, were stealing signs from opposing teams. From all indications, this is cheating and this is not kosher.

Let me just clarify that:

You are allowed to steal signs, you just can't do it electronically. In other words, it is really not wrong until you utilize the best means of technology.

Got it. I accept this, because, well, I don't feel like arguing this.

(I guess I'm glad the medical profession doesn't use this same standard. Uh, we could treat your headaches with Ibuprofen and heating pads, but let's stick with the ancient method of an elixir containing human blood and drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure.)

The Astros deserved MLB's punishment, but, as a student of history, Couch Slouch would like to point out that there have been multiple instances of similar swindling, defrauding, scamming, flimflamming, hoodwinking, fleecing, shafting, video-sign-stealing chicanery in modern and pre-modern times.

For your edification, here are some prominent examples:

Socrates and Plato: In an attempt to outsmart his perpetually smug teacher at the third annual Greek National Spelling Bee held at the Grand Hyatt Athens in 401 B.C., Plato sparked controversy by employing shadow puppets on the brightly lit north wall of the banquet hall to help him spell out different entries. The winning word: "aëricumbens."

Marie Antoinette: The somewhat unpopular queen of France hired a sketch artist to secretly document agitators cutting into bread lines. Once the drawings were discovered, along with a recording of her saying, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" she was guillotined on Oct. 16, 1793 outside of a Le Pain Quotidien just before the lunch rush.

Burr-Hamilton duel: On the morning of July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton met at a dueling ground in Weehawken, N.J., near Bed Bath & Beyond. They agreed to stand back-to-back, then each would take 10 paces before firing. But Burr had one of his seconds hold a large vanity mirror in front of him, so he could see precisely where Hamilton was at the conclusion of the 10 steps. Burr then fired a fatal shot into Hamilton's lower abdomen.

Battle of the Little Bighorn: As George Armstrong Custer led U.S. troops toward Little Bighorn Valley on June 25, 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse utilized two sublime tactics to outmaneuver the lieutenant colonel: A primitive GPS device, tracking the government soldiers' movement via Pringles left on the incoming trail, combined with smoke signals sent back to the camp. This allowed Native American forces to ambush Custer and his infantry.

"Rear Window": In direct violation of HOA regulations, photographer J.J. "Jeff" Jefferies – confined to his condo because of a broken leg – routinely used binoculars to eavesdrop on his Greenwich Village neighbors in 1954. This led him to witnessing a marital spat, followed by his suspicions that the husband killed his wife and buried something incriminating in the garden. The neighbor was arrested but eventually acquitted of murder charges while Jefferies got convicted under the city's recently enacted peeping Tom laws.

Macy's vs. Gimbels: During the famed department-store rivalry in the 1960s and '70s, Gimbels – using a Polaroid camera with a telephoto lens – took snapshots of Macy's shoppers' credit cards as they paid at the register to steal customers. Did Gimbels tell Macy's? No. But Macy's found out through an anonymous whistleblower; Gimbels lost face and went out of business in 1986.

New York City garbage strike: Boy, the streets sure stank of garbage when the sanitation workers walked out in 1968. Teamsters leaders sped up talks the old-fashioned way – they woke up city negotiators each morning with one trash can thrown through a living room window, with two trash cans on off-days and three on weekends. When all else failed, they took a baseball bat to Mayor John Lindsay's office and asked him if he wanted to step outside.

New England Patriots: Uh, duh.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Agent Drew Rosenhaus terminated his relationship with Antonio Brown until the free-agent wide receiver seeks help. Exactly what type of help? (Ron Kirkpatrick; Chicago)

A. Frankly, I thought Brown might end his relationship with Rosenhaus until ITAL he END ITAL got help.

Q. Are the regular LSU boosters annoyed they were not invited to personally hand out cash to the players in the Superdome after the championship win? (Mike Soper; Washington, D.C.)

A. Nah, that was scheduled for the Red Lobster in Baton Rouge the following afternoon.

Q. Given their history, would it count toward diversity if the Cleveland Browns hired their first competent coach? (Rich Tucker; Falls Church, Va.)

A. We may never find out.

Q. Would MLB have considered managing the Mets punishment enough for Carlos Beltran's role in the Astros cheating scandal? (Stuart Gavurin; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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