After a controversy-laden 2020, the Houston Astros enjoyed a solid start to the 2021 MLB season. The ‘Stros currently sit top of the AL West with a 6-3 record. Excellent batting is one of the critical components underpinning that record. The Astros players have also displayed mental fortitude to start on the road and come away with an above .500 record.
Despite yesterday’s series loss to Oakland, the Houston Astros can be satisfied with their opening week of the 2021 season. Now it’s time to assess if they can carry on as they’ve started.
Why the Houston Astros Can
Quite simply, the Astros can continue with this strong form because they are the most experienced, seasoned team in the AL West. By hook or by crook, the Astros became the dominant team in the division over the last five years. Jose Altuve is a former MVP who is hitting at a .351 batting average. Altuve’s not broke out the long ball yet; however, he is adept at putting the ball in play. As the games tick by and players enjoy hot and cold streaks, that skill will allow Altuve to play consistently.
Superstars like Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa join Altuve in the infield. Both of those players are excellent fielders while they also possess dynamite with the bat. Bregman is also hitting above .300, as is Correa. These big three players are the key for Houston on offense. All three are enjoying solid starts to the season; if Houston is to emerge as a contender, they must stay hot throughout the summer.
Pivoting to the mound, Zack Greinke is enjoying a decent start on the rubber. The veteran pitcher is so far stepping up in the absence of Justin Verlander. Greinke is a seasoned campaigner; he must anchor the rotation while the other starting pitchers nurse their way back from injury. Luckily for the Houston Astros, Greinke is more than good enough to lead them for the foreseeable future.
Lance McCullers JR will support Greinke in the rotation. He’s solidly begun his season with a 1.8 ERA and 31% strikeout percentage. He is ready to back Greinke up. Lastly, Dusty Baker and the clubhouse are smart enough not to get too high or too low; the season is a marathon.
Why the Houston Astros Can’t
The first hurdle the Astros must negotiate is injuries on the pitching staff. Pedro Baez, Framber Valdez, Josh James, and two-time Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander are all out. Verlander, in particular, is missing a lot of baseball over the last year.
The Astros bullpen used to be a significant strength; now it is paper-thin. In an era of bullpen battalions, Houston needs quality starts from their starters. Pitchers like Brooks Raley and Blake Taylor own ERA’s north of four. As the season rolls on, the Houston Astros pitching depth will get severely tested. Both in the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Then there is the hostility that will accompany the Astros on the road. We already saw fans at Angel Stadium throw an inflatable trash can on the field during the game. As the weeks pass by and more fans go to the stadiums, the Astros will face more hostile atmospheres. Yes, they’ve started well so far; however, the monotony of 81 games on the road may eventually catch up, especially if the atmospheres become much more vitriolic.
Finally, the biggest obstacle for the Houston Astros is the LA Angels. The Halos are one of the most exciting teams in all of MLB. They also own some of the most talented stars in the league with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Albert Pujols. The Angels are every bit as gifted as the Astros, if not better than Houston on paper.
For the first time in a long time, there is a genuine contender in the West. Houston can’t coast their way to a division title, and if there are any slip-ups, the Angels will make them pay.
The Astros’ quest to stay atop the division sees them travel to Detroit to reunite with former manager AJ Hinch. Houston will go on the road to the chilly mid-west to stay hot. It is early in this 162 game marathon, nonetheless, every game is important for the Houston Astros.