What Should Be Expected from the Houston Astros in 2016?
After a surprisingly successful season in 2015, expectations for 2016 are for an even better year. Sports Illustrated has picked the Astros to beat the Cubs in the World Series. One of the bookmaking sites in Las Vegas, Vegasinsider.com, has quoted the Astros odds of winning the World Series at 13-1, better than those for the Royals, (14-1), the Dodgers (15-1) and the Cardinals (15-1).
Are these expectations realistic? Possibly not, but the success in 2015 was hardly a fluke. The Astros outscored their opponents, with a run differential of 111, second only to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League and they ranked among the major league leaders in home runs, stolen bases, pitching and defense. They had a few soft spots that cost them in the end but they took measures during the off-season to shore them up (bullpen, first base, excessive strikeouts) and, on paper, they are stronger than last year.
What are the primary reasons for optimism? They should have full seasons from shortstop, Carlos Correa and outfielders George Springer and Carlos Gomez. They have the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year in Correa, the league leader in hits and stolen bases in Jose Altuve and a potential superstar in Springer. They have strong management that is capable of making moves to improve the team and, hopefully, an owner who will provide the cash to get it done.
However, there is a potential downside. Baseball is an unpredictable game which is one reason so many people enjoy it through a long 162- game schedule. There is a history of teams that have made a strong move up one season, only to regress in the following year. A prime example is the Cleveland Indians with an improvement from 60 wins in 1985 to 84 wins in 1986 only to fall back to 61 wins in 1987. They did it again with 78 wins in 2006, 96 in 2007, 81 in 2008 and 65 in 2009. Kansas City had a similar experience going from 62 wins in 2002 to 83 in 2003 before falling back to 58 in 2004.
The greatest vulnerability that the Astros have is a serious injury to a key player like Correa, Altuve, Springer or Keuchel. Since all four had excellent seasons in 2015, especially Correa and Keuchel, some drop-off in their production might be expected. However, this could be offset by an improvement in performance by some of the other players.
Overall, a realistic expectation for the Astros is a record of 91-71, a five game improvement over last year. This should put them in contention for the Division championship with the Texas Rangers with a good chance of another wild card if they fall short.