AL West preview: Astros soar to another division title

Houston proved last year that patience, in baseball, truly is a virtue.

The Astros showed the baseball world that enduring six-straight losing seasons can be just the medication for a long-stifled franchise. They showed Houston, and all other major league cities, that 56 years of waiting will only make the celebration that much sweeter. Along the way to their 2017 World Series title run, the Astros (101-61 last season) became the model for dynastic development.

Of their projected starting 10 this season, six were drafted (or signed) by the Astros — four in the first round. The pièce de résistance, of course, is second baseman José Altuve. But the 2017 AL MVP and five-time All-Star is far from alone among the ranks of homegrown superstars in Houston.

Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and George Springer are just a few of the well-established Astros to have never worn anything but Astro orange.

Houston did not rest on their laurels coming off the first title in franchise history, though, bringing in Gerrit Cole to further bolster a rotation that already gave up the third-fewest earned runs (4.03 ERA) in the AL.

The bullpen appears on the surface to be Achilles’ heel for the Astros. Their bullpen finished 2017 with a 4.27 ERA (10th in AL), 1.28 WHIP (8th) and 21 blown saves (6th). But as long as the starters can hand the ball directly to set-up man Chris Devenski (2.68 ERA, 0.942 WHIP) and closer Ken Giles (2.30 ERA, 1.037), with some Will Harris (2.98 ERA, 0.971 WHIP) mixed in, they can secure that otherwise threatening tendon.

That shouldn’t be much of a problem for the top four in the rotation — yup, top *four*.

As for the offense, the potency boasted by this club is laughable. Eight men homered more than 15 times in 2017, each returning in 2018, and seven batted above .280. There was no 100-RBI man, but that is because no one man had that many opportunities, too many were batting behind someone with more than 70, a mark seven different Astros reached.

Not only were the Astros second in home runs by an AL squad (238), they were fourth in stolen bases (98) and tops in both average (.282) and on-base percentage (.346). This lineup never quits, they had 10 players pass the 50-RBI mark for crying out loud — the Athletics had just four, by comparison.

The roster losses Houston did suffer — Carlos Beltrán, Nori Aoki and Cameron Maybin the most significant of those — deliver minimal blows to a group this well-rounded.

The product: another AL West crown, and another playoff run

projected record: 95-67


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.