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The AL West Race: Houston's to lose or win?

By Alex Al-Kazzaz


The Houston Astros have a chip on their shoulder. Despite securing last season's AL West, their in-state rivals dethroned them in a thrilling ALCS and went on to win the World Series. Now, the Astros are determined to reclaim their throne and proudly represent the Lone Star State again.


Projected Starting Lineup:


Houston's starting lineup is expected to be one of the league's most unique and dangerous. The team's first baseman is José Abreu. Although he recently dealt with a sore knee, there's nothing to worry about. Jose Altuve, who just signed a five-year extension, will remain at second base. The Shortstop position belongs to Jeremy Peña. In 2022, Peña was the first shortstop to win a Gold Glove as a rookie, as well as the third rookie in history to be named World Series MVP.


The third base position rightfully belongs to Alex Bregman. The two-time All-Star and World Series champion is entering the final year of his current contract that he signed in 2019. Bregman played in a career-high 161 games last season. Kyle Tucker, Jake Meyers, and Chas McCormick will be in the outfield for Houston.


Yordan Alvarez will be the designated hitter. Last season, he split his time as DH and the left outfield position. He only played in 114 games last season, as he missed time due to an oblique injury. He's expected to shift positions a few times this season. The Astros are hoping he'll stay healthy.


The Bench:


Jon Singleton, Grae Kessinger, and Mauricio Dubón. Dubón has to be the most interesting player to watch. Last year, Dubón amassed career-high hits (130), homers (10), and runs (76), appearing in a career-high 131 games. His efforts earned him a Gold Glove award, and since he can play numerous positions, he's a valuable asset to the club.


Pitching Rotation:


Justin Verlander will start the season on the injured list. Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and José Urquidy are no-brainers. J.P. France was promoted to the majors for the first time in May last year and amassed a respectable 11-6 record. France deserves a spot in the rotation based on his 3.83 ERA last season and 101 strikeouts.


Hunter Brown is likely the one who's technically only filling for the injured Verlander. Brown was 11-13 last season with a 5.09 ERA. It was not the best run, but certainly not terrible. Quite frankly, Brown and France are the ones fighting to stay in the rotation once Verlander is cleared. Only one of the two will remain, and Brown is determined to prove he's worthy of remaining a starter, as is France. The competition between Brown and France is something to keep an eye on.


Bullpen:


Going into last season, the Astros had the best bullpen. Bryan Abreu is suspended for the first two games. Ryan Pressly and Rafael Montero are solidified, so those are no-brainers. Josh Hader just arrived from San Diego and the 2020 NL saves leader is a five-time All-Star. Brandon Bielak started last year in Triple-A Sugar Land and was called up on April 30th, starting a career-high 13 games, amassing a 5-6 record. Hader and Bielak ought to do well.


The other names with a chance to make the bullpen are Seth Martinez, Bennett Sousa, and Ronel Blanco. Blanco has had a respectable outing in Spring Training. Martinez has bounced around the majors and minors since his first major league debut for Houston in 2021. Sousa has been a little down on his luck and it wouldn't even be surprising if he was optioned to the minors instead of making the Opening Day roster.


Dylan Coleman was optioned to minor league camp last week due to struggles during Spring Training. Rafael Montero is hoping to make the bullpen to rebound his career.


Who will be the team's MVP?


Several are capable of achieving this accomplishment. It's easy to pick Altuve as the one who can and will, which is realistic. However, if anyone can strongly compete with Altuve for this and be the team's MVP, it has to be Peña.


Peña's rookie year was fantastic, and he was almost just as good last year. His numbers last year were slightly lower, but that's usually how baseball goes. Peña skills and ability to play and excel all speak for themselves. No doubt, Peña is the future of this baseball club.


One Burning Question:


Is the AL West for Houston to win or lose? Going back to 2017, the Astros have won the division six times, reaching the World Series four times and winning it twice. For seven years, they've ruled the division with an iron fist. No disrespect to the Oakland A's, but 2020 shouldn't even really count because of how short the season was. No disrespect to the Dodgers, either.


Houston's got what it takes to win the World Series. That's what's most important to them. But keeping their throne in AL West helps them maintain their reputation. They face competition from the Rangers and Mariners, but the Astros have no reason to lose it unless they get bit hard by the injury bug.


Record Prediction:


Houston was 90-72 last season. This season, they go 101-61 and win the World Series to achieve full redemption from the woes from last season.


 Maing Imabe Via: Tim Nwachukwu | Credit: Getty Images

Copyright: 2022 Getty Images

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