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.

Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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