2020 MLB Preview: Houston Astros
The ‘Stros Give Dusty Baker His Last Shot At A Title
Who benefited from the sign-stealing scheme that the Houston Astros were found to have conducted? Dusty Baker. You might ask, “How so” since Baker was nowhere near Houston when all this went down. In fact, Baker has been working in grapes (not the sour kind) since he was let go by the Washington Nationals after 95 and 97-win seasons. Recently he has been trying to keep his Baker Family Wines tasting room open in West Sacramento during California’s close-open-close yo-yoing of businesses during COVID-19. When Houston needed a new manager that wouldn’t screw up a veteran team, they called Baker. The call had to be made because while the 2018 Sauvignon is available curbside, so is former Astros manager AJ Hinch. He took the fall for his players’ cheating after they were found to be using the old, “Bang on the trashcan once for a fastball” system to let Houston hitters know what opposing pitchers were throwing. So Baker gets another crack at a title after being run out of Washington, Chicago and Cincinatti despite significant improvements during his tenure.
By in large, the Astros team Baker inherits remains the same as the one that has lost an American League Championship Series and a World Series in consecutive years after winning it all in 2017. There is the notable exception of starting pitcher Gerrit Cole who takes to the New York Yankees his Cy Young-caliber stuff (MLB-best 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 2019. 20 wins second to award-winner and teammate Justin Verlander). On the mound the loss of Cole can’t be overlooked. That’s a heap of wins and a super-low ERA that took stress of the bullpen that’s now out the door. So is Wade Miley (14 wins and a 3.98 ERA who went to Cincinnati.
The starting pitching will need help for the team to remain as dominant. Jose Urquidy (3.95 ERA in eight starts with a 1.10 WHIP) should fill in nicely for Miley. But who’s going to pick up 20 wins? Also, the bullpen loses Will Harris and his 1.50 ERA in 60 innings to Washington.
Alex Bregman (.296 batting average, 41 home runs,112 runs batted in) finished second in the MVP voting and is eager to prove his ascension to the top of the list of Major League Baseball’s elite was his doing and had nothing to do with a pair of binoculars and a broom. Same goes for second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielders George Springer, and Yordan Alvarez. The Astros will have plenty of firepower offensively as all of them have on-base-plus-slugging percentages of more than .900 in the year after the cheating occurred, according to the MLB report on the matter.
After stinging, season-ending losses to the Washington Nationals and the Boston Red Sox, there is no way Houston repeats its 107-win performance from last year. But even if you lop off a dozen for the loss of Cole, you still have 95, and Baker has a shot at 2,000 wins as a manager if the ‘Stros bring him back next year. It’s a one-year contract, and the team may very well bring back AJ Hinch. It would be fascinating to see what the team does if Baker does what he couldn’t at any previous stop and wins the World Series. Maybe this is the year.
60-game coronavirus prediction: 38-22.