Starting in 2017, the Houston Astros built one of baseball's most formidable juggernauts. For the past three seasons Houston has won their division and over 100 regular-season games (101, 103 and 107). The Astros reached the ALCS all three years, winning the World Series in 2017, losing the ALCS to the Red Sox in 2018 and losing the World Series to the Nationals last year.
However, all of their success has been thrown into question thanks to one of sports' most controversial cheating scandals. Following the 2019 season, former starter Mike Fiers spilled the beans about how the Astros used cameras hidden in center field to steal signs from opposing teams, which they then alerted to Astros hitters by banging on a trash can so they knew what type of pitch was coming.
MLB brought the hammer down on Houston, suspending Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Lunhow for the entire 2020 season. (Both were subsequently fired.) The Astros were also fined $5 million and lost their first and second round draft picks in both 2020 and 2021. Over the past nine months, the Astros have become public enemy No. 1 in baseball. Adding to the horrendous offseason, Houston lost ace Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA in 2019) to the Yankees in free agency.
Houston hired 71-year-old Dusty Baker to take over as manager. Baker has gone 1,863-1,636 (.532) as manager of the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals.
Despite all the bad publicity and anti-Astros sentiment across the country, Houston still possesses one of the strongest rosters in baseball, led by its deep and talented young core of position players.
Here is the Astros' 2020 projected lineup:
1. George Springer OF
2. Jose Altuve 2B
3. Michael Brantley OF
4. Alex Bregman 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel 1B
6. Yordan Alvarez DH
7. Carlos Correa SS
8. Josh Reddick OF
9. Martin Maldonado C
Even though Cole is gone, the Astros can still lean on veteran Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA). Verlander underwent groin surgery in March, but has since recovered and is now healthy to start the season. Houston also enjoys the benefit of having Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 ERA) for a full season. Greinke was acquired at the trade deadline in 2019.
Here is the Astros' projected starting rotation:
1. Justin Verlander
2. Zack Greinke
3. Lance McCullers
4. Jose Urquidy
5. Joshua James/Austin Pruitt
Houston returns virtually its entire bullpen from last season, led by closer Roberto Osuna and setup man Ryan Pressly.
So what do the oddsmakers think of the Astros in 2020? Will the cheating scandal haunt them? Or do they represent a smart "buy low" opportunity because they're being undervalued by a public who despises them?
At BetMGM, the Astros' 2020 win total is 34.5, tied with the Twins for the 3rd highest in MLB. Only the Dodgers and Yankees (both 37.5) are higher. In fact, the Astros over 34.5 is juiced up to -120 (under + 100), signaling a combination of smart money and house liability on the over win total.
FanGraphs, one of the most trusted sites for baseball analytics, projects Houston going 35-25 this season. Only the Dodgers (36-24) have a higher projection.
The Astros are + 800 to win the World Series, the third-best odds overall behind the Dodgers (+ 350) and Yankees (+ 400).
Houston has the second-best odds to win the American League at + 400. Only the Yankees (+ 155) are higher.
The Astros are -182 favorites to win the AL West, followed by the Athletics + 265, Angels + 650, Rangers + 1600 and Mariners + 6500.
Houston has several MVP candidates: Alex Bregman at + 2000, George Springer + 2500, Jose Altuve + 4000, Carlos Correa + 4500 and Yordan Alvarez + 8000.
Altuve is + 700 to lead the AL in batting average, followed by Brantley + 900, Gurriel + 1100 and Bregman + 1200. Altuve is the favorite to lead the AL in hits at + 700.
Verlander is + 600 to win the Cy Young, trailing only Cole at + 265. Verlander is + 400 to lead the AL in strikeouts and + 550 to lead the AL in wins.
Osuna is + 500 to lead the AL in saves, trailing only Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees at + 400.