MLB season preview: The Astros are chasing their World Series destiny

Look at your calendar, Houston. It’s 2017. You know what that means, don’t you? It’s time to win the World Series.

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No, this isn’t another “Back to the Future 2” prediction. When the Astros were in the midst of their rebuild in 2014, Sports Illustrated deemed them the future 2017 World Champions. A lot has happened since then: Carlos Correa arrived and is looking to take the next step toward superstardom. Jose Altuve turned into an MVP-type player. Dallas Keuchel won a Cy Young (and had a horrible follow-up season). Alex Bregman is a year older. And the Astros complemented all that by making some big win-now moves this past offseason.

So are the Astros capable of winning the 2017 World Series? Absolutely. They have to leapfrog the Texas Rangers in the AL West, but the Astros have one of the most impressive lineups in baseball, top to bottom. The starting rotation has some question marks, but there’s breakout potential there too.

Houston has some ground to make up after an 84-win finish last season, but one look at that roster — and maybe even the calendar — and you have to admit, the Astros have a good shot.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick
Subtractions: Luis Valbuena, Colby Rasmus, Jason Castro

After a disappointing 2016, the Astros announced their presence during the offseason. Bringing in both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran are win-now moves. Beltran is only on a one-year deal and clearly chasing a championship before he calls it quits. McCann is in his decline phase, but he’s a huge offensive upgrade over Jason Castro. Josh Reddick feels like a major wild card here. He signed a surprising four-year deal early in the offseason after seeing limited reps with the Dodgers in the second half. He’s put up solid numbers when healthy, but has played in 140 games just twice in the past five seasons. (Chris Cwik)

The Astros infield of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa has tons of potential. (AP)
The Astros infield of Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa has tons of potential. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
As good as 2015 was for Dallas Keuchel, 2016 was equally as bad. His ERA went up by two runs, his walks went up and his strikeouts went down. None of those traveled in the right direction. He looked like a different pitcher, and there was a good reason: he missed over a month with shoulder inflammation, and revealed during the offseason that he pitched through the injury for part of the year. He’s healthy now, and has looked good in spring training, which is great news for the Astros. A healthy, productive Keuchel might mean that Jose Altuve could avoid carrying the team on his back for months at a time. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. George Springer, CF (.261/.359/.457, 29 HR, 82 RBI, 116 R)
2. Jose Altuve, 2B (.338/.396/.531, 24 HR, 96 RBI, 108 R, 30 SB)
3. Carlos Correa, SS (.274/.361/.451, 20 HR, 96 RBI, 76 R)
4. Carlos Beltran, DH (.295/.337/.513, 29 HR, 93 RBI)
5. Brian McCann, C (.242/.335/.413, 20 HR, 58 RBI)
6. Alex Bregman, 3B (.264/.313/.478, 8 HR, 34 RBI)
7. Josh Reddick, RF (.281/.345/.405, 10 HR, 37 RBI)
8. Yulieski Gurriel, 1B (.262/.292/.385, 3 HR, 15 RBI)
9. Nori Aoki, LF (.283/.349/.388, 4 HR, 28 RBI)

Rotation
1. Dallas Keuchel (9-12, 4.55 ERA, 168 IP, 144 K)
2. Collin McHugh (13-10, 4.34 ERA, 184.2 IP, 177 K)
3. Mike Fiers (11-8, 4.48 ERA, 168.2 IP, 134 K)
4. Lance McCullers (6-5, 3.22 ERA, 81 IP, 106 K)
5. Charlie Morton (1-1, 4.15 ERA, 17.1 IP, 19 K)

The Astros pitching staff could use a better season from Dallas Keuchel in 2017. (AP)
The Astros pitching staff could use a better season from Dallas Keuchel in 2017. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
There’s a lot to like about this Astros team. If the rotation bounces back from a down season, it could be enough to put them over the top in the AL West. With a scary lineup and a really good bullpen, Houston could top 90 wins for the first time since 2004 and even win its first-ever World Series. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Anything less than the postseason. There’s no guarantee the rotation will bounce back, so that’s one concern. Another might the league adjusting to and causing problems for young superstars like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. The latter is probably a stretch though, which means injuries are about the only thing than can keep Houston from finishing with under 85 wins. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Alex Bregman, drink the Kool-Aid or pump the brakes?
The team’s top prospect heading into the ’16 campaign, Bregman received his MLB promotion in late July, and he didn’t exactly hit the ground running (or hitting) — he opened his Astros career by going 2-for-38. But things started to take a turn for the better for Bregman in early August, and he followed up his opening slump by going 51-for-163 (.313) down the stretch. In the process, he showed nice pop, with 24 of those 51 hits going for extra bases (including 8 HRs).

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Houston Astros]

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft out of LSU ascended to Houston in a New York minute (just 146 games played at the minor league level), but he proved over the final two months of ’16 that he already belongs at the highest level of the game. And while he struck out 24 percent of the time with the Astros, his minor league track record reveals a player that has excellent plate discipline, and combined with his elite bat speed, strikeouts are unlikely to be an on-going issue.

Simply put, Bregman possesses the bat talent and the natural instincts to pick up right where he left off last season. He’s currently going No. 10 among 3B-eligibles in Yahoo ADP, which might be a tad optimistic considering he’s going ahead of two players (Evan Longoria and Anthony Rendon) that finished top 75 overall in the Y! game in ’16. But given Bregman’s pedigree and strong finish to ’16, I think he’s got a fairly safe fantasy floor, one that should be no worse than a .270-.280 batting average and 20-ish home runs to go with solid run production hitting in this potent lineup. And, again, that’s just his floor. So, to answer the question, drink up!

BEST FOLLOW
Hey, it’s Bregman again and he was really, really excited about the World Baseball Classic.


Beyond that, he’s also just excited about life in general. He loves his teammates and baseball and fans and jokes (especially jokes with his teammates or baseball players on other teams) and pretty much everything else in the world. He’s a happy guy, and who doesn’t need more of that in their life? (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
If you’re visiting Houston for the first time, you might as well take in the nightlife. Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar is located less than a mile away from Minute Maid Park. You can enjoy the Astros game, and then head there to continue the party.

If you would prefer to do something prior to the game, you can try to get a tour of the Houston Symphony. If that’s not your style, the Aquarium is close as well.

Since Minute Maid Park is located downtown, there are plenty of bars and places to go before and after games. You’ll have plenty to choose from. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington NationalsSan Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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