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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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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