Houston is the odds-on favorite to win it all
Seriously, will anyone be able to beat the Astros?
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.