The Houston Astros, one of the 2015 wild card holders, were six outs from knocking off the Royals in last October’s Division Series. But they collapsed, and we all know what Kansas City went on to do. So by that logic, the Astros should be ready to challenge for AL supremacy this year, right?
Sure, why not? Houston still has Dallas Keuchel, the reigning Cy Young winner, at the front of the rotation, and GM Jeff Luhnow added Doug Fister on a one-year, $7-million deal. Of greater significance, however, could be getting Ken Giles, the former Phillies’ closer, in a seven-player trade this winter. The move allows Luke Gregerson, who had 31 saves last season, to slide into the set-up role.
But the Astros’ biggest strength is their youngsters, and everyone is anxious to see what shortstop prodigy Carlos Correa can do with a full season after hitting 22 home runs in 99 games last year. There’s also plenty more muscle here with Evan Gattis (27 HRs), Luis Valbuena (25) and Colby Rasmus (25).
Jose Altuve (.313 BA, 38 SB) remains the engine in the leadoff spot, and the Astros should benefit from Carlos Gomez — traded at the deadline — having something to prove after a disappointing second half.
Texas probably deserves to be listed as 1-B in the division, as the return of Yu Darvish from Tommy John surgery and a full year of Cole Hamels should give them a dominant front end to the rotation. Offensively, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are the pillars, with young slugger Joey Gallo potentially adding 40-homer pop.
The Mariners made a lot of prognosticators look bad last year in tumbling to 86 losses and now it’s new GM Jerry DiPoto’s turn to restore the faith at Safeco. The big draws remain Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, but DiPoto needs some of the young talent to step up, including the heralded Taijaun Walker, whose 4.86 ERA last season has to come down. Newly acquired Steve Cishek will help bolster the pen.
Might be time to consider a name-change in SoCal, and “Trouts” has a nice ring to it. Arguably the best player in the game, Mike Trout still can’t do it alone, and Albert Pujols never seems healthy enough to provide that second hammer. Andrelton Simmons should be fun to watch at short, though.
The only suspense this year in Oakland: Will GM Billy Beane look to re-stock the system and trade Sonny Gray? Usually can’t help himself, so we say yes.
ALL THE BEST
Manager: A.J. Hinch, Hou.
GM: Jeff Luhnow, Hou.
Everyday player: Mike Trout, L.A.
Hitter: Jose Altuve, Hou.
Leadoff hitter: Jose Altuve, Hou.
Baserunner: Jose Altuve, Hou.
Most exciting: Mike Trout, L.A.
Infielder: Adrian Beltre, Texas
Outfielder: Mike Trout, L.A.
Catcher: Jason Castro, Hou.
Starter: Felix Hernandez, Sea.
Setup: Luke Gregerson, Hou.
Closer: Shawn Tolleson, Texas
Home uniforms: A’s
Ballpark atmosphere: Minute Maid Park