Houston Astros Batting Lineup Summary: Houston has a lot of premium bats returning. They lost their batting coach and bench coach to the Boston Red Sox who will now be the new manager in Boston and you can easily argue that six of their top 8 batters peaked. If Houston's batters duplicate or build on what they did last season this team will be back in the World Series conversation once again. At the same if their batters peaked last year they could easily decline. Look at Cleveland they dominated from both a pitching and batting perspective in 2016, but took a peaked too early with batting in 2017. Houston could dominate again in the batting lineup, but they could also take a step back so it will be interesting to see how this team responds without Cora.
Houston Astros Starting Rotation
Lance McCullers Jr.
Houston Astros Starting Rotation Summary: Justin Verlander went 5-0 with an ERA of 1.05 in his five starts with the Astros during the regular season. If he maintains that level of play over a full season he will be a Cy Young Candidate in 2018. Dallas Keuchel is just as capable of complimenting Verlander. Lance McCullers Jr. dealt with injuries in 2017. He has competition with Gerrit Cole who I see posting similar numbers like he did in 2015 when he went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA when he had to play with veterans and fight for that number one starter role. Charlie Morton rounds out an incredible starting rotation.
Houston Astros Bullpen
Houston Astros Bullpen Summary: Houston has Brad Peacock who can be a number five starter, substitute starter, long reliever, or middle reliever. It's rare to find a long reliever with that kind of flexibility. Colin McCugh compliments him well. Houston has two of the best long relievers in their bullpen.
Houston's middle relievers aren't as good as they were when they lost to the Royals in the 2015 MLB Playoffs, but they acquired Hector Rondon from the Cubs and Joe Smith from the Cleveland Indians. If those two relievers pitch well at middle reliever then Houston will have a very good chance to repeat. Tony Sipp can be an asset too if he reverts to his play from three years ago when he had a 1.98 ERA in 2015. Sipp has given up 4 runs a game out of the bullpen the last two years. Houston won the 2017 World Series with inconsistent play at middle reliever, but their starters were able to buy the bullpen 6 2/3 innings or 7 1/3 innings during the 2017 MLB Playoffs consistently which helped the bullpen.
Houston has Chris Devenski as their set up pitcher and Ken Giles as their closer. If Houston continues to get 7 innings a game from their starting pitchers and they can use Devenski in the eighth before Ken Giles closes things in the ninth inning. Giles had 34 saves in 2017.
Prediction: Houston made massive improvements from last years World Series team. Two years ago I said they'd lose to Toronto in 7 games of the 2016 ALCS, and that was the year the Cleveland Indians won the AL.
Houston was my initial pick to go back to the World Series and they still are a power house. In fact, their rotation is much stronger than last year. I'm just not sure their middle relievers hold up. If their middle relievers play well this team repeats as AL Champions. If they struggle then Boston, the New York Yankees, or Cleveland Indians will unseat the Astros in 2018.
Right now, I'm going with Houston over Cleveland for my 2018 ALCS. I could also see them playing the Boston Red Sox and their former batting coach for the 2018 ALCS. Remember how LeBron beat Toronto before the Indians beat Toronto in the ALCS. If the Cavs play the Rockets in the NBA Finals, I guarantee we will get a Cleveland VS Houston ALCS with the winner of that NBA Finals watching their city win the ALCS. For some reason, I don't think the Yankees will be as motivated under Boone as they were under Girardi plus New York has a glaring weakness at long reliever with two long relievers who have ERAs of over 4.00. I do believe Houston has the star power to repeat as this team reminds me a lot of the Yankees team that won three World Series Championships in a row.