Influx of experience may put Astros over top

Influx of experience may put Astros over top

HOUSTON -- Despite the additions the Astros made this offseason and the rising expectations that come with improvements, the club isn't perfect. The Astros, like all teams, have questions, though not as many as in years past.

After acquiring catcher Brian McCann, outfielders Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Norichika Aoki and pitcher Charlie Morton, the Astros have added depth and experience, especially to an offense that figures to be among the best in the Major Leagues.

"We feel pretty good about the additions," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We also feel pretty good about the guys we're bringing back, and I think it's important to understand that the goal of the offseason was to supplement the good core group that we have returning. I think we've done that."

The Astros would still like to bolster their pitching staff in support of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers, both of whom are coming off injuries, and they could add a few bullpen pieces, but Houston is set up nicely to contend in 2017 after missing the postseason in '16.

Here are five key questions looming as the Astros head into 2017:

1. Will Keuchel and McCullers come back healthy?

This could be the key to the season. Keuchel, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2015, and McCullers both have the ability to dominate when healthy. Keuchel went 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA in 26 starts last season before missing the final month with left shoulder inflammation. He's expected to be healthy and rested for 2017. McCullers, 23, struck out 106 batters in 81 innings across 14 starts last year, a season he began and ended with stints on the disabled list. He didn't pitch in the final two months because of right elbow discomfort, but he's also expected to be healthy going into Spring Training.

Keuchel on Astros' rotation

2. What kind of impact will newcomers McCann, Reddick and Beltran have on the lineup?

All three bring proven track records and veteran leadership. McCann should give the Astros their biggest offensive threat at catcher in years, and Reddick will join George Springer in what should be a dynamic and terrific defensive outfield. Beltran, a switch-hitter, brings a little of everything while proving last year he has plenty left in the tank at 39 years old. All three fill one of the Astros' biggest needs -- offense from the left side of the plate. Add them to the Astros' young core, and the lineup is as complete as can be.

Giles completes the save

3. Is Ken Giles ready to dominate at closer?

Giles was the Astros' biggest offseason addition a year ago, when they acquired him in a deal with the Phillies. Giles' struggles in the spring meant he had to earn his way into the closer role, and he took over in the second half of the season, with mixed results. He can be dominant at times -- he struck out 102 batters in 65 2/3 innings -- with his upper-90s fastball and unhittable slider, but he gave up too many home runs in key situations. The Astros will need Giles to round into form and be more consistent.

Musgrove's scoreless start

4. Who will eat innings at the back end of the rotation?

Healthy seasons from Keuchel and McCullers would go a long way toward making the Astros' rotation a strong one, and Collin McHugh has been steady now for three years. Morton made only four starts last year and could be a good hand if he stays healthy, while Joe Musgrove showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season. Mike Fiers has been inconsistent. The bottom line is that the Astros will need one of their back-end arms to step up.

Statcast: Bregman's big day

5. What can we expect with a full season of Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel?

Both showed promising signs as rookies -- Bregman as a former No. 2 overall pick, at 22 years old, and Gurriel as a Cuban free agent signed in July at 32 years old. Bregman overcame a slow start to hit .264 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 49 games, and Gurriel batted .262 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 36 games. Bregman has superstar potential, and Gurriel had moments that made it easy to see why the Astros gave him $47.5 million over five years. If both can approach the peak of their production over an entire season, watch out.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.