The Astros certainly can reach the World Series, but health is important. They need to get Lance McCullers Jr. and Will Harris back healthy and pitching at the top of their game. I don't think there's any question Carlos Correa and George Springer will produce when they return from the DL.
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Sure, the Yankees and Red Sox are improved, and the Indians are already a difficult matchup for the Astros. Those are three of the elite bullpens in the Majors, and we all know the Astros have had trouble in the 'pen for a couple of months now. Bullpens are more important than ever in a postseason series, but a healthy Astros team -- and the best lineup in the game -- will give them a shot to make a run all the way to the World Series. But they have to pitch well and get healthy.
You're not going to keep all these guys in free agency, but that's why you build a deep Minor League system. In terms of their key players, free agency will come in waves, which should help them keep the majority of the core of the club together. I would expect the Astros to try to sign players prior to their final year before free agency, because no player wants to spend their contract year in limbo.
Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez (after 2018) are the first in line to become free agents, followed by Jose Altuve, Harris, Collin McHugh (after 2019), and Springer, Jake Marisnick and Ken Giles (after 2020). Alex Bregman and Correa still have several years of control left, so it's too early to worry about them. Keuchel and Gonzalez will have major interest in the open market, so this could be an interesting winter in terms of possible long-term contract negotiations.
Tweet from @marksewell10: Lineup question: how many times has AJ Hinch had identical lineups for consecutive games (minus starting pitcher)? Same lineup & positions?
He's used 97 different lineups in 111 games, which isn't surprising considering all the injuries and the shuffling he has to do between designated hitter, outfield and the catching spot. A quick scan of the lineups reveals he hasn't used the same lineup twice in a row. This is the most popular batting order so far (used four times): Springer, Josh Reddick, Altuve, Correa, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Yuli Gurriel, Bregman and Norichika Aoki. With Aoki gone, it won't happen again.
No, a healthy Astros team will have Gattis and McCann as the two catchers.
Last year, he threw 47.8 percent sliders, and this year it's pretty even (49.6 percent sliders). Opposing hitters teed off on his fastball last year, hitting .376 as compared to .094 for the slider. It's evened out a bit this year (.254 average on fastball, .138 on slider), but his slider remains his best pitch. He's gets a much higher percentage of swings and misses on his slider.
I do think the Astros will make another move in August to shore up the bullpen, but don't expect to get blown away. August trades are difficult to make because players have to clear waivers, and other teams claim players to block them from going to rivals. Two years ago, the Astros got lefty reliever Oliver Perez, but that didn't exactly work out too well.