Baseball is a long season, and with 162 games no one can accurately predict exactly how things will turn out. I will not be making any assumptions, but I will be discussing the Astros path to the AL West title.
Let’s look at the Pro’s and Con’s of the Rangers and Astros, the top two competitors for the West.
The Rangers have a descent starting set of pitchers, with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish at the top, followed by Perez, Griffin, and Cashner. Their top 2 starters are definitely their strength, but if Perez can keep his ERA down, and Griffin and Cashner can return to 2013 form, then they can be a big boost to this team.
Yet the bigger problem for the club is their less than reliable bullpen. Last year we saw them start shaky before buckling down, a big reason the Rangers won their 3rd division title last season.
Closer Sam Dyson is especially to blame, as he appears lost on the mound.
The Astros are in a much better position when it comes to their starting set, with Keuchel and McCullers holding down the front, with Morton, Musgrover, and Fiers backing up.
For the Astros, starters 1-4 are solid to great if they stay healthy, and with McHugh continuing to have set backs, don’t be surprised if the Astros go after another pitcher by mid season as long as they don’t have to “sell the farm.” The starters have looked sharp this far into the season, and so has the bullpen.
There is a lot of talk about Lance McCullers being a sleeper for the Cy Young, and I can go along with that. But I think the real sleeper who should be on everyone’s radar is “Devo”, Chris Devenski. This kid is lights out. He can come in and give you multiple innings, his pitching efficiency is superb. With a change up in the high 70’s mixed with a 94-95 MPH fastball, he can be deadly on the mound.
Outside of Devinsky the Astros have a stacked bullpen, as Giles, Harris, Gregerson, Sipp, Feliz, and even Peacock and Gustave are all capable of giving the Astros’ shutout innings.
Giles has been solid since the second half of last year, Harris is very dependable, Gregerson has closer experience, and even Brad Peacock has been on fire. Giles, Gregerson, and Harris can also all close out a game. A.J. Hinch isn’t afraid to go with his gut on these moves. It should work nicely as the year goes on.
Michael Feliz has a tendencay to give up runs, along with Gustave, but these two can contribute as the season progresses, and they gain experience. Tony Sipp, the only lefty in the bunch, is still a question mark, but if he can return to 2015 form he will have some key outs.
EARLY SEASON PITCHING ADVANTAGE: ASTROS – The Astros have to prove to themselves that they can beat the Rangers, and a big part of that will keeping Ranger’s hitters at bay. The Astros pitching staff going into the season and through the first weeks seem to have the advantage.
Let’s start with the Astros most anticipated lineup since Biggio, Berkman, and Bagwell took the field.
Correa, Springer, Altuve, Bregmen, Gurriel, Reddick, McCann, Gattis, Aoki and Beltran. There are others, but these are you’re big bats to watch.
Springer in the leadoff already proving he deserves to be there. Reddick taking ownership of the 2 spot, Altuve returning to form hitting and stealing bases, Gurriel showing he has discipline at the plate and can hit it up the middle or to the gap in right. Bregman always solid at the plate as he continues to mature. McCann has potential to have a big year in the Jucie Box, as his co-conspirator Evan Gattis looks to build on what he has done the last two years. Beltran is capable in the DH role as well some LF can hit anytime anywhere, for average or power. Aoki is a nice addition and will be a serviceable hitter slapping the ball to left, scoring base runners, and using his left handed bat to help win some games.
Bottom line is the Astros shouldn’t have much trouble scoring runs as the year goes on, despite some early hiccups.
The Rangers have a very good lineup as well: The key hitters in this lineup are Nomar Mazara, Roughned Odor, John Lucroy, Robinson Chirinos, Elvis Andrus, Shin Soo Choo, Mike Napoli, and Joey Gallo.
They aren’t the only hitters in this lineup, but from top to bottom they can mash. One thing I can appreciate as an Astros fan is the fact that these guys go out towin every day.
With power/runs coming from Mazara, Odor, Gallo, Gomez and Napoli there is a potential for high scoring games this year. Their biggest problem is consistency at the plate.
With the struggles of the pitching staff there is an added pressure for hitters to perform, which should have a negative effect at the plate over the long-run.
EARLY SEASON HITTING ADVANTAGE: ASTROS – The advantages here are predicated on the fact that the Astros MUST beat the Rangers and win the Silver Boot. It sounds cheesy, but the Rangers were the Astros Achilles heel last year. A AL West title will start with the Silver Boot.
Note worthy: Kuechel is now 3-0, Harris yet to give up a run, Reddick is on fire, and Springer and Altuve are getting around the bases. These along with a strong bullpen make the Astros my early season pick to win the WEST. The Quest of the West must be Earned, and the Rangers won’t just lay down.