There are more questions than answers right now for this Astros team
You won't make a living arguing sports with Charlie Pallilo but I had an issue with an article he wrote last week on this very website. He didn't write the headline but it said that the Astros were heading into spring training with very few questions to answer.
I beg to differ.
True, there aren't a lot of roster spots up for grabs and the Astros are a heavy favorite to win the A.L. West again but there are a lot more storylines than the fifth starter and Carlos Correa's back.
I'm not nearly as bullish on this team as I was the past two years. Again, they will win the A.L. West and be back in the postseason but that's not the standard anymore. I'm not sure this team has done enough this offseason to catch the Red Sox and they were probably passed by the Yankees who have been extremely busy.
Let's start with the Yankees. They lost starter Sonny Gray who was a disaster for them and replaced him with James Paxton who is one of the best lefties in baseball and an Astro killer. They also re-signed J.A. Happ who was 7-0 since they picked him up last year from the Blue Jays. They lost David Robertson from their bullpen but added Adam Ottavino who was dominant in Colorado. He should be lights out in New York. They also added D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to fill in while Didi Gregorius heals from Tommy John surgery. He should be back before August.
That was a 100 win team. They are better, possibly much better.
The Red Sox didn't do much this offseason. They didn't have to. They won 108 games and the world title. They re-signed Nathan Eovaldi, which was huge. They lost closer Craig Kimbrel but I'm not sure they won't be better off. If Ryan Brasier can't handle it Matt Barnes can. They have both got closer stuff.
The Astros solved their closer dilemma last trade deadline. Roberto Osuna is firmly planted in that role. That's the only sure thing in a bullpen that was a disaster again last postseason. Ryan Pressly is solid and will be counted on in big late game situations. Otherwise it's a crap shoot. Hector Rondon wasn't even on the LDS roster and wasn't happy about it. Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski weren't invited to the party either. Will Harris was awful for three months last year but righted the ship and made the playoff roster only to see that go poorly once he was there. Josh James may or may not be counted on to give them bullpen innings. He could be a starter. Either way the longer he stayed in the game last year the worse it got but he was young and going through it all for the first time. He will hopefully be better. Lord knows he has the "stuff." Cionel Perez will take Tony Sipp's spot as the token lefty.
Meanwhile 3/5 of the rotation is gone. Verlander and Cole are the only ones back. They're arguably the best one-two punch in baseball but they only start 40% of the games. The other 60% is very much up in the air.
One thing we know for sure, Collin McHugh will be the third starter to begin the season. That's a two-fold problem. One, it takes him out of a role where he excelled, middle relief. Two, it puts more pressure on a bullpen that will be taxed this season. McHugh will have to build up plenty of stamina to go more than 6 innings. Last year he went 3 innings twice. In '16, his last year as a starter he averaged less than 5 2/3 innings per start.
Wade Miley is your fouth starter. He'd been sturdy up until last year but he made only 16 starts and threw 80 innings. Hopefully he will be able to make all his starts but that doesn't mean he will be effective. He's a below .500 pitcher in his career but he's never worked with Brent Strom before. That seems to be magical for most guys.
Brad Peacock and Josh James will fight for the last spot. The other will head to the pen. In '16 Peacock averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per start. If Josh James is the fifth starter who knows how patient AJ will be with him when he struggles into the 4th, 5th and 6th innings.
All of this means that the bullpen will play an even bigger role than ever. By the postseason you can bet that it'll be overworked. You'll need the bullpen for some 500 innings. That's about what they gave you last year. We've already seen what that means in all three of these recent postseasons. There has been very little left in the tank. Even when they won it all it was only because the starters came in and saved the day.
Offensively the Astros will probably be one of baseball's best. It fell off last year with injuries to Altuve and Correa. Hopefully those two will be back to '17 form. You can bet on Altuve but Correa isn't a sure thing. Backs are tricky and I'm not not so sure some of it wasn't in his head. He looked tentative and overmatched at times. That can't happen this year.
Other than that you'll have to live with a dead spot in the lineup from the catchers but I'll be interested to see what Tyler White can do with more at bats. Michael Brantley will be a welcome addition. Kyle Tucker will get another shot. Hopefully he makes more of it. He actually hit into some poor luck. Tony Kemp deserves more time. Maybe he'll platoon at DH. Aledmys Diaz has a lot to prove if he's going to replace Marwin. Alex Bregman had a huge offseason. He needs to validate his breakout year with another big one this season.
Again, this team will be back in the postseason. The A.L. West got weaker with Seattle's fire sale. But that's not enough. Not anymore. It's parade or bust. To get back there Jeff Luhnow is going to have to make a lot more noise at the trade deadline than he did this offseason.