Publish date:

1 ASTROS

Author:

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP HOUSTON

A lot of guys had career years last season—but to think there's a drop-off coming is delusional. The scary thing? You go down the roster, and there are guys who will be better this year.... Alex Bregman broke out in the second half, and hitting in front of guys like Carlos Correa, he's going to get a ton of fastballs to feast on.... George Springer continued to improve in hitting for contact and started to hit for more power. You add the defense he brings, he's an MVP candidate.... Catcher is an area they will need to address: Brian McCann is trending downward—the days of him starting 100 games are over—and backup Max Stassi is not an answer.... The rotation will be better with a full season from Justin Verlander. He logged a lot of postseason innings, but he looked better than ever this spring. He'll pick up where he left off.... They're getting the Gerrit Cole who struggled last year; he had a dozen starts that were horrendous. The velocity is there, but there's clearly some flaw in there that's getting him to elevate the ball, and the move to the AL won't help matters.... Don't read too much into the bullpen's postseason struggles. Ken Giles was dominant in the second half, and that means more than a few bad playoff outings.... They're just so deep, with plenty of pieces they can move at the deadline if they need to.

THE PAYOFF PITCH

The Astros didn't rest on their laurels, using their depth to acquire righty Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. Cole was a minor disappointment in Pittsburgh, never meeting the expectation that he would be an ace. Some of the problems may have been repertoire. Cole never quite fit into the Pirates' plan of having their pitchers throw two-seam fastballs to get ground balls. In 2017, he got away from that approach and returned to using his four-seam fastball and sharp breaking stuff more, and his two-seamer and change less. By September he was striking out 28% of the hitters he faced, up from 21% in the first half. If the Astros let Cole be who he is—a traditional four-seam fastball/breaking ball pitcher—they may well have traded for a No. 1 starter at a No. 3 price.

OVER / UNDER

96.5

After shoring up their rotation with Cole and a full season of Verlander, the Astros will make a run at the franchise wins record of 102, set in 1998.

THE LINEUP

1. CENTERFIELD

George Springer

.270 BA/.501 SLG/30 HR

FANTASY BREAKOUT

2. THIRD BASE

Alex Bregman

.274 BA/22 HR/15 SB

His star turn began last year; eligibility at shortstop boosts his fantasy value.

3. SECOND BASE

José Altuve

.314 BA/20 HR/33 SB

4. SHORTSTOP

Carlos Correa

.517 SLG/27 HR/7 SB

5. RIGHTFIELD

Josh Reddick

.278 BA/17 HR/7 SB

6. FIRST BASE

Yuli Gurriel

.285 BA/17 HR/3 SB

7. LEFTFIELD

Marwin Gonzalez

.264 BA/17 HR/8 SB

8. DH

Evan Gattis

.254 BA/.484 SLG/23 HR

9. CATCHER

Brian McCann

.241 BA/.429 SLG/17 HR

THE STAFF

1. RH STARTER

Justin Verlander

14 W/3.84 ERA/1.20 WHP

2. LH STARTER

Dallas Keuchel

14 W/3.70 ERA/1.31 WHP

3. RH STARTER

Gerrit Cole

12 W/4.17 ERA/1.26 WHP

4. RH STARTER

Lance McCullers Jr.

10 W/3.62 ERA/9.6 K9

5. CLOSER

Ken Giles

33 SV/3.18 ERA/11.9 K9

THE SKIPPER

A.J. Hinch