Editors Note: Chris is a southeast Texas native that has followed Houston sports for most of his life. His main hobbies are drinking good beer or whiskey, watching and betting sports, and being a family man. You can follow him on twitter @ChrisCampise
By CHRIS CAMPISE
If you are like me, it is now one of the darkest parts of the sports year. Football is over, so unless you’re someone who likes to start watching the playoff pushes in the NHL or NBA, you’re either looking forward to the NFL draft or MLB spring training. The 2017 PECOTA rankings came out this week and have the Astros not only winning the AL West, but finishing with the best record in the AL outright. I think that may be a small stretch, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Winning the division would be a great accomplishment, but far from meeting expectations. They have to get it done in the playoffs, which won’t be a cakewalk by any means. Both the Indians and Red Sox are higher favorites to come out of the AL than the Astros, and for good reason. The Red Sox won the Chris Sale sweepstakes and are always hot on offense, and the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion. Oh, and say the Astros get back to the World Series for the second time, their opponent would likely be one of the juggernauts of the NL: the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, or Giants. Here are the top few teams from the current World Series odds on vegasinsider.com:
- Chicago Cubs – 11/4
- Boston Red Sox – 11/2
- Cleveland Indians – 6/1
- Los Angeles Dodgers – 10/1
- Washington Nationals – 11/1
- Houston Astros – 12/1
- San Francisco Giants – 14/1
If nothing else, it’s great to see the Astros so close to the top. We’ll find out soon enough what this team can do, as spring training gets under way next week. Here are some dates to look forward to:
- Feb 14: Pitchers and Catchers Report to Spring Training
- Feb 18: First Full Team Workout
- Feb 27: First Spring Training Game vs. Mets
- Apr 3: Opening Game vs. Mariners
Starting Pitchers: Still the biggest concern going into the year is going to be how well the starting rotation can do. There’s a lot of potential there, but Dallas Keuchel has to have a bounce back year and the young guys behind him have to prove their worth and get hot. The good news is the Astros top prospect, Francis Martes, got the invitation to spring training to show if he will be ready to move up to the big leagues this year if needed. Martes is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball after a strong season with Double-A Corpus Christi, finishing with a 3.30 ERA. Don’t be surprised if you see him moved up sometime this year. Could he be that other ace the Astros need? Time will tell.
Will Harris: The Astros made another solid off-season move by giving Harris a 2-year deal. The closer role is still uncertain, so Harris’ deal means there will be a three man battle going into spring training between himself, Ken Giles, and Luke Gregerson. A.J . Hinch has said that Giles would be the optimal fit at closer, but you really can’t go wrong putting those three guys in any order for the closing innings of a game.
April can’t get here soon enough. Altuve. Correa. Beltran. Springer. Bregman. McCann. Gurriel. Keuchel. McCullers. This could be their year. I’m dying to see how close this team gets to their potential and how the off-season moves work out. In any case, they will not be able to afford to start out 7-17 in April like last year, nor can they afford to lose 15 of 19 against a division foe. They have to get out quick and distance themselves from the rest of their division, which if you’re a believer of the hype, seems all too likely.