Astros ready to ‘Take it Back’ in 2019

The 2019 MLB season is off to the races and the Houston Astros are poised for another championship caliber season. Champions in 2017, the Astros fell to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the 2018 ALCS. 

The home team has adopted “Take it Back” as the tagline for the upcoming season. The clear implication is that the team feels they can recapture the magic that made the 2017 season special.

With a young nucleus that remains intact from the 2017 team, the Astros know what it takes to get through the long MLB season and have success in the postseason. There is no lack of confidence in the Astros clubhouse. That confidence starts with skipper A.J. Hinch.

“I have as much confidence as I ever have in this team,” Hinch said. “I love this team. I love the makeup. I love the edge that we have, the versatility that we have, the depth that our minor league system has. There’s a lot of good going on here.”

“There’s an expectation of winning here and there should be,” Hinch continued. “We have a good team.  We all know what it takes to get to the finish line.” 

Here is the outlook:

Starting pitching: The frontend of the Astros starting pitching rotation is rock solid. Justin Verlander is the ace of the staff.  At 36 years old Verlander is still capable of bringing it in the mid-90’s and simply overwhelming opposing hitters. Right-hander Gerrit Cole would be the ace on any staff that didn’t include Verlander. In 2018 he struck out a remarkable 34.5 percent of the batters he faced while walking just 8.0 percent.

With Dallas Keuchel lost to free agency and Lance McCullers out for the year recuperating from surgery, the back side of the starting pitching lineup has to step up. Veterans like Colin McHugh and Brad Peacock have big-game experience and will be counted on to shore up the rotation. Newcomer Wade Miley, youngster Josh James and top minor league prospect Forrest Whitleycould also figure into the equation.  

Bullpen: If the startersshould falter, the bullpen is loaded with reliable arms. Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Hector Rondon and Ryan Pressly have proven they can hold a lead or stop the bleeding. Expect Roberto Osuna to be one of the games top closers.

Infield: The Astros can lay claim to the AL’s No. 1 infield and get very little argument from most experts. All-Star Alex Bregman, 25, was the All-Star game MVP and literally carried the offense on his back last August when the team was beset with injuries offensively. Expect All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, 24, to bounce back from an injury plagued 2018 season. Jose Altuve, 28, has recovered fully from offseason knee surgery and is poised for another MVP run.  The elder statesman Yuli Gurriel, 34, continues to be force defensively at first base and boasts a career .290 batting average. Expect newcomer Robinson Chirinos to handle the duties at catcher with relief from Max Stassi.

Outfield: The Astros added another weapon in the outfield acquiring former Cleveland Indian leftfielder Michael Brantley in free agency. Brantley, 31, is a career .295 hitter. Brantley is a player Astros management has had on their wish list for a while. 

 “We like everything about Michael’s game, and we’ve been watching him for years,” GM Jeff Luhnow said. “To be able to add a bat like Michael Brantley at this point in our progression, it gives us a lot better chance to continue to do damage the next two years. So we’re excited.”

Brantley joins Mr. Reliable, All-Star centerfielder George Springer, 29 and Josh Reddick in a talented, athletic outfield.   The MLB 162-game regular season is known as a marathon, not a sprint. The team that can stay consistent and healthy has a chance at the end of the season.  The Astros have a talented, deep lineup, bursting at the seams with playmakers. Expect them to repeat as AL West champs for the third consecutive