Could the season’s delay benefit the Houston Astros and keep the AL West favorites relevant on MLB futures odds?
It has been a tumultuous offseason for the Houston Astros, to say the least. The investigation into sign-stealing in their 2017 World Series Championship run led to the firing of General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch and dominated the news heading into and during Spring Training for the last couple of months.
Once games began in Florida where the Astros train, there were a few stories about some of Houston’s hitters being hit by pitches, along with a few fans booing and calling them cheaters while wearing t-shirts that reflected their disgust with the team. But overall, the treatment from fans as well as the media was tame by some expectations, and the story was relegated to the back burner for the most part.
Astros Have Been Slowly Falling On Futures Odds
That back burner doesn’t have any fire to it now that the start of the season has been delayed due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has taken over every facet of daily life around the world, and just when things will even begin to return to a hint of normalcy remains unclear.
Does that mean, however, that some or most of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will be overlooked when baseball does return to the diamonds? I’m guessing some of it will, but it won’t go away completely. It’s 2020 and the 1919 Chicago White Sox still come up in conversation, along with Pete Rose and the poster children for the whole steroids/PEDs mess that gripped baseball for much of the last 20+ years. Houston still ranks third at 5Dimes behind the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers as an 8/1 pick to win the World Series, and the Astros are still a chalky pick around -250 to win another AL West flag. The win total mark has been like a tire with a slow leak, though, starting in the upper-90s, even triple digits at some shops before coming down to the 93½-94½ level.
How Fast Will Alvarez Recover From Knee Injury?
The best way to stop some of the verbal abuse of fans and some of the media would be to win. Before the virus news started to creep into every conversation, there were also some signs – primarily injuries – why the Astros aren’t a popular bet on MLB futures boards, and a slow start would’ve increased the heckling for sure. Now, there’s time for some of those injuries to heal, same as the Yankees, and that could benefit the Astros once the season does resume. The biggest of those involves ace and 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58). Kate Upton’s husband suffered a lat strain a week ago during a Spring Training game and was likely headed to the Injured List to begin the season. After losing Gerrit Cole to free agency and with Lance McCullers still in comeback mode from Tommy John surgery, Houston can’t afford to be without Verlander. With the delay, he now should be ready for the Opening Day reset.
The other big injury news was regarding 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez. The slugging Cuban added a huge stick to an already impressive lineup last season by hitting .313 with 27 homers in his first 87 major league games, and had problems with both knees to keep him out of a lot of spring action. At 22, it has to be disconcerting to the team that Alvarez is already having problems with both knees.
Trips to Arlington, Anaheim & New York Could Be The Worst
New manager Dusty Baker still has a formidable lineup and a strong bullpen to fall back on should Verlander and Alvarez be unable to answer the opening bell. Roberto Osuna was having a good spring before play was halted, as were Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski, and Joe Smith, that quartet expected to get the lion’s share of work in 2020. Brad Peacock was slowed by neck soreness, but here again, the delay could be beneficial for him.
Houston was supposed to open at home against the Angels, then go to Oakland and Anaheim the following week. The third weekend of the schedule was to have found the Astros in Arlington to face the Texas Rangers in their new park, and that is going to be one of several locales where the boo birds will be loudest. The series after the Rangers was a trip to face the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 43 fans will be broiling over the way the 2019 ALDS ended with all sorts of allegations about more sign-stealing.
Those road trips to Anaheim – where Dodgers fans were expected to gather and express their animosity – and Arlington would have been barometers for how the Astros might have been treated the entire season. Just when those games come off, however, makes it something of a moot point. We also shouldn’t forget about that 4-game series in late-September in the Bronx.
When various companies released their 2020 MLB video games, there were a lot of gamers who just sat around throwing at the heads of Astros players. It won’t be quite that bad when the real games resume, but that was part of the reason my earlier free baseball pick had the Astros as one of the two AL wild cards and not division winners. The noise on the road might be a little less now, but Houston is still going to hear it…and feel it.