The Houston Astros will enter 2021 more vulnerable than ever atop the American League West. And yet, they remain atop the division. Or do they? Yesterday, our own Mark Polishuk asked MLBTR readers to predict the division winner, and so far, the Astros have fallen from their perch. Readers are currently projecting the A’s to win the division – though the Astros aren’t far behind.
Astros’ fever may spike as their stars return to health. Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez will both make their Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday, per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (via Twitter), which should provide a lift for manager Dusty Baker and company. Álvarez will be closely monitored for most of the season after offseason knee surgery. He’ll be limited to designated hitter duties in 2021. His bat, of course, can be a real difference maker. The 23-year-old owns an absurd .343 ISO though 378 plate appearances.
Bregman’s return to the lineup is no less crucial. Though he was the last arriving of the Astros’ original position player core, he’s grown into the best performer of the bunch. Back-to-back MVP-consideration seasons have launched Bregman into the first tier of MLB superstar. Especially with a roster that’s thinner that in year’s past, the Astros will need Bregman to ramp up to regular season form quickly.
When the season does open, it will be Zack Greinke on the hill. To no one’s surprise, Baker named Greinke their opening day starter, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Though he was a rotation luxury behind Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander when he was acquired, Greinke has grown in importance over the past year and a half, not only on the hill, but in the clubhouse and in front of reporters as well. The veteran has a 3.54 ERA/3.02 FIP in 129 2/3 innings over two seasons since joining the Astros.
Elsewhere in the rotation, the Astros are already without Framber Valdez, and his replacement Jake Odorizzi won’t be ready by opening day. Cristian Javier, however, say he will be ready to go, per Sports Director at Fox 26 Mark Berman (via Twitter).