It was November 3rd, 2016. General Manager Jeff Lunhow and the rest of the Astros watched from home as the Cubs defeated the Indians to claim their first World Series title since 1908. The Astros narrowly missed the playoffs that year, a step backwards from our ALDS appearance in 2015. “How do we get their?” Lunhow wondered as he watched the Cubs break the 108-year-old curse. “How do we get to the World Series?”
It was then that Lunhow realized the Astros needed outside help if they were going to take the next step. “We’ve always had more of an attitude of wait and see…but now we need to be more aggressive,” Lunhow said after the first round of GM meetings in early November. “I think we’re going to start making some offers right away”.
Within five weeks, Lunhow had added five players that completely changed the complexion of the roster. He began by signing Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki, and added Pirates starter Charlie Morton a few weeks later. He then made a trade for veteran catcher Brian McCann. Lunhow capped off the offseason with another two signings — outfielder Josh Reddick and former Astro star Carlos Beltran.
With these moves, Lunhow sent a message that is abundantly clear—the rebuilding phase in Houston is over. The Astros are going for it, and we are going for it now. 2017 is our year.
Most analysts seem to agree. 28 of 35 ESPN experts picked us to win the AL West, and 5 picked us to win the World Series (more than all teams not named the Cubs or Indians). Fangraphs projects us to finish 6 games ahead in the AL West, and Baseball Prospectus projects us to finish with the best record in the American League.
These projections are not unfounded. Lack of offense has always been our achilles heel. Despite finishing 6 games above .500 last season, the Astros 15th in runs scored, 23rd in team batting average, and struck out more than almost every other team in the Majors. However, after this offseason our weakness has been turned to a strength. Just look at this offensive lineup:
1. George Springer (CF)
2. Alex Bregman (3B)
3. Jose Altuve (2B)
4. Carlos Correa (SS)
5. Carlos Beltran (DH)
6. Josh Reddick (RF)
7. Yuli Gurriel (1B)
8. Brian McCann (C)
9. Nori Aoki (LF)
How stacked is that? You would be hard pressed to find a more potent lineup in the MLB. Springer and Bregman at the top to set the table for the league leader in hits, followed by a barrage of offensive firepower in Correa, Beltran, and Reddick. Even the bottom third of the lineup is exceptional— Gurriel is a proven power threat, McCann is a top 10 offensive catcher, and Aoki hasn’t hit below .280 in 5 seasons.
In addition to solid offense, the ‘Stros boast one of the strongest bullpens in the Majors. Ken Giles, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson all have closer-type stuff, and each spent significant time in the closers role last season. Chris Devenski was perhaps the most underrated reliever in all the Majors last year, posting a 2.16 ERA in 48 appearances. Michael Feliz can blow you away with his fastball, and Tony Sipp provides a veteran presence as our situational lefty.
Most point to starting pitching as our weakness, but we're going to be just fine. Lance McCullers is electric, pitching with some of the highest spin rates in all of baseball. Colin McHugh and Charlie Morton are proven and reliable, and we all know Dallas Keuchel is capable of a Cy-Young performance. Joe Musgrove has great poise and should emerge as the next Astro rookie sensation. Francis Martes-- the #5 pitching prospect in all of baseball-- is also expected to debut for the Astros this year.
With our roster, aspirations for a World Series title are far from a stretch. After years and years of losing, the Astros have finally added all necessary pieces and emerged as the team to beat in the AL West.
What actually happens in the World Series remains to be seen. But for the first time in years, the Astros have legitimate reason to believe they will be in it. This is our year.