2017 World Series Preview: Astros’ Strengths and Weaknesses

2017 World Series Preview: Astros’ Strengths and Weaknesses

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers have just one more opponent in 2017: the Houston Astros. While we’ve compared the Dodgers to their respective National League Division Series and Championship Series opponents, it’s fair to assume most are well-versed in the strengths and weakness of the team.

With that, we shine the spotlight on the American League champion Astros. They too crossed the 100-win threshold this season, finishing with the third-best record in baseball at 101-61.

If not for the Cleveland Indians catching fire — to the tune of a 22-game winning streak — the Astros would’ve finished with the top record in the AL instead of one game behind.

Nonetheless, Houston is the first team in MLB history to win the NL and AL pennant, and the World Series berth is the second in the franchise’s history. They were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Like any other team, the Astros certainly have their strengths, but they are not without some vulnerabilities.

Strengths

The top of the Astros’ rotation has been huge this postseason. Former Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander certainly looks like the best trade acquisition of the season.

After reaching Houston, he immersed himself in analytics and his production improved dramatically. Verlander allowed just four earned runs over five regular-season starts with the Astros, and another four earned runs in as many postseason appearances.

Dallas Keuchel is also a former Cy Young Award winner who had a difficult 2016 campaign but bounced back this year by posting a 2.90 ERA and a 2.5 WAR (FanGraphs). In the playoffs, he’s made three starts and struck out 25 batters in 17.1 innings.

Lance McCullers could start or continue to serve as a long man after excelling in the role by shutting down the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS with his curveball. Starter Collin McHugh also contributed out of the bullpen, with four shutout innings in Game 3 of the ALCS.

Former closer Luke Gregerson has made three scoreless appearances in the postseason.

The Astros’ offense was a force to be reckoned with in 2017. Their collective 121 wRC+ was the fourth-best mark in MLB history, behind the “Murderer’s Row” Yankees of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

They were led by Jose Altuve, who won his second straight batting title and is a favorite, with Aaron Judge, to win the AL MVP. Altuve has been one of the hottest hitters in the postseason, with a 1.275 on-base plus slugging percentage through the first two rounds.

Houston has another pair of up-the-middle bats with the ability to change the game. Shortstop and 2012 first overall pick Carlos Correa hit .315/.391/.550 in the regular season and led the team with nine hits in the ALCS.

Center fielder George Springer has struggled in the postseason, but he hit 34 homers this year. The Astros’ lineup in the regular season was very deep, with old friend Josh Reddick and young infielder Alex Bregman adding wRC+s in the 120s.

Cuban defector Yulieski Gurriel was a solid performer this year, with a 118 wRC+ and outfielder Jake Marisnick was just behind him at 117. Though, Marisnick has not recovered from thumb surgery and won’t appear in the World Series unless he’s added to the roster as an injury replacement.

Veteran utility man Marwin Gonzalez has also failed to put up much production in the playoffs but was a dangerous hitter in the regular season, posting a 144 wRC+.

Weaknesses

Both the back of the Astros’ rotation and bullpen have been shaky this postseason. While Morton went five scoreless innings in Game 7 the previous round, he also surrendered seven runs to the Yankees in a Game 3 loss.

Brad Peacock led the Astros’ pitching staff in WAR this season with a 3.4 mark in 34 games, including 21 starts. However, he started Game 3 of the ALDS and lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing three runs on six hits. Peacock has also allowed a run in both of his relief appearances.

Houston sent quality prospects to Philadelphia in 2015 to acquire Ken Giles and, while he struggled in his first season with the Astros, he turned things around this past season by posting a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves.

However, Gile’s struggled mightily in the playoffs, yielding a 7.50 ERA in six appearances and producing only one scoreless outing.

Setup man Chris Devenski, who broke out in 2016 and was very productive in 2017, has made five appearances in October and allowed four runs in three innings. Three of those runs came in one outing, in which he failed to record an out. In total, he only recorded two outs in the ALCS.

The rest of the Astros’ bullpen has also struggled. Francisco Liriano has made just three appearances to record five outs. Will Harris has pitched two innings and allowed one run, while Joe Musgrove has allowed three runs in 2.2 innings.

On offense, players not named Altuve, Correa or Gurriel haven’t hit much. Veteran catcher Brian McCann has a .489 OPS in 10 games, while the aforementioned Springer, Bregman, Reddick and Gonzalez each have an OPS of under .700. Carlos Beltran has just three hits in 17 postseason at-bats.

Summary

While some key contributors to Houston have failed to produce in the postseason, they simply have too much talent to take for granted. The Dodgers and Astros are very evenly matched, so the deciding factor will be who steps up on the biggest stage.