As players report to spring training, here are 5 teams most likely to prevent an Astros repeat

There are serious threats to the Astros having another parade. Bob Levey/Getty Images

You want my opinion on if it’s too early to talk baseball? I say no way, Jose Altuve! Spring training is officially under way, so let’s talk baseball!

Football is over. I don’t care about the NBA until the playoffs start, and have never really gotten into hockey. With Opening Day moving up to March 29th this season, we’ll have regular-season baseball before an NCAA Final Four, too. I think it’s finally time to put the amazing season of 2017 behind us and start talking about 2018.

It’s no surprise that most sportsbooks have the Astros as favorites to win it all again this year and for good reason. They lost basically no significant pieces and improved heavily by adding Gerrit Cole earlier this offseason to what should be one of the strongest rotations in the league.

However, repeating in any sport is rarely done, especially in the MLB where it’s only happened a grand total of four times. One big reason for that is championship teams spend the entirety of the next season with a huge target on their backs. You think the Rangers are going to lay down for the Astros on Opening Day like they did most of last year? Think again.

With that in mind, here are the five teams, in my opinion, that could prevent the Astros from repeating in 2018:

5. Los Angeles Angels

It all starts in their own division. If the Astros even want a shot to repeat, they will have to go through the AL West first, and it won’t be as easy this year. The Angels made one of the biggest offseason moves by signing international prospect Shohei Otani, a two-way player that can pitch, play in the outfield, and do damage at the plate. They also picked up infielders Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart, who paired with a healthy Mike Trout can win enough games in 2018 to give the Astros a run for the division. I will be very surprised if the Astros win the division by 20-plus games this year like they did in 2017.

4. Cleveland Indians

Let’s not forget the best team in the AL from 2017, the Indians. They lost a couple of pieces this offseason, but are still just as much a potent team as they were last year when they went on that amazing 22-game winning streak towards the end of the season. Perhaps luckily, the Astros didn’t have to face the Indians in the playoffs in 2017 after Cleveland was bounced by the Yankees. In 2018, I’ll have my same reservations about having to face them if it comes to that because they are still stacked.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

It would be silly to pretend that losing Yu Darvish all of a sudden takes the Dodgers out of contention for being one of the best teams in 2018. They have the last two NL Rookie of the Year recipients in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw. They should have no problem locking up another NL West title to get them into the playoffs where they will be out for blood to redeem themselves. They made it to the World Series last year for a reason, and they could absolutely do it again and get over the hump this year.

2. New York Yankees

The Yankees took the Astros to the limit in their seven-game clash in the ALCS last year, and unfortunately for the Astros, they have made one huge upgrade. The Yankees added one of the best power hitters in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton, this offseason which paired with reigning AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge sets up a powerful duo that could double-handedly hit enough homers in 2018 to power their way past any opponent. They also have a decently strong rotation with pitchers Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and will get a full year out of Sonny Gray, a pickup from 2017.

1. Chicago Cubs

Speaking of Yu Darvish, the team that picked him up? The Chicago Cubs. All that stuff I said about it being hard to repeat, the Cubs experienced that last year. Similar to the Astros, the Cubs will have to make it out of their division first, but with a lineup as good top-to-bottom as they have on both offense and defense, they’re the team I’m the most afraid of facing in the World Series if I’m the Astros. The team that won it all in 2016 is in there and just waiting to break out.

There are still some big names out there in free agency which could greatly change my opinion about this list such as J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer, but for now, these are the five teams I see keeping the Astros away from back-to-back Commissioner’s trophies.

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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