“To Boldly Go…” – Five Bold Predictions for the 2019 Houston Astros

I recently began watching Star Trek: Enterprise (the one with Scott Bakula as Captain Archer) to help pass the time until 2019 Spring Training. The series takes place 100 years before Captain Kirk takes flight, and it strikes a great balance between action, humor, and drama. Captain Archer’s beagle is adorable, too.

Beyond enticing me to consider adopting a beagle pup, Star Trek: Enterprise has inspired me “to boldly go” forth and offer a few wild predictions for the Houston Astros in 2019. Without further ado, here they are:

(1) Carlos Correa rebounds from a subpar 2018 season to post career-best offensive statistics in 2019: Correa had a terrible 2018 season. He hit .239 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs and a career-low .728 OPS in 110 regular season games. He dealt with back and side soreness for the majority of the second-half of the season. He also struggled with breathing problems caused by a deviated septum. He had surgery on the deviated septum in November and he claims to be fully-healthy entering the 2019 season. Before his injury-marred 2018, Correa was one of MLB’s hottest young shortstops and a consensus pick to challenge for 2018 AL MVP honors. It’s hard to believe Correa is still only 24 years old, given all that he has accomplished over the last 3+ seasons. Now healthy, focused and entering his age 25 season, I’m predicting not just a “rebound year,” but the best season of his career. You heard it here first: Correa will finish the 2019 regular season with at least 24 HR, 96 RBI, and a BA above .315.

(2) Gerrit Cole surpasses Justin Verlander as the Astros’ most productive starting pitcher: Cole finished 2018 with a 15-5 W/L record, to go along with 276 K/64 BB, an ERA of 2.88 and a 1.03 WHIP. Verlander finished with a record of 16-9 W/L, to go along with 290 K/37 BB, an ERA of 2.52 and a .902 WHIP. I predict that Cole surpasses Verlander as the Astros’ most effective starting pitcher this season for a few reasons. First, the advanced metrics suggest Cole actually outperformed Verlander last season. Verlander recorded a .272 BABIP; 85.3 LOB%; 29.1 GB%; 11.1% HR/FB. Cole recorded a .286 BABIP; 77.9 LOB%; 36 GB% and a 10.0% HR/FB. Cole’s higher ERA could have resulted, in part, from a bit of “bad luck” on balls hit in play (i.e., higher BABIP the Verlander), and a lower “strand rate” for baserunners. Cole also recorded a better groundball rate (GB%) and a lower home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) than Verlander. Second, Cole is entering his physical prime years at age 28 (29 this September), while Verlander is 35 and coming off of two consecutive seasons with 230+ innings pitched (including the postseason). Verlander will begin showing signs of physical decline at some point, right? My guess is that Verlander begins declining this season and Cole emerges as the staff ace.

(3) Josh James challenges for AL Rookie of the Year Honors: James made 6 appearances (3 starts) with the Astros late last season, with the following results: 23 IP; 2-0 W/L; 29 K/7 BB; 2.35 ERA; .957 WHIP. Over a full 162-game season, those statistical rates would equate to 174 IP; 15-0 record; 219 K/53 BB; 2.35 ERA; .957 WHIP. It’s rare for a pitcher to receive ROY consideration – the last starting pitcher to win the AL ROY award was Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers in 2016, when he recorded 159 IP; 11-7 W/L; 132 K/42 BB; 3.06 ERA; 1.12 WHIP. James could be in the conversation if he maintains his spot in the rotation and comes remotely close to pitching as effectively as he did last season (perhaps 150 IP, 10 wins, 175+ strikeouts?). Remember, these are bold predictions…

(4) Roberto Osuna finishes as the AL leader in Saves: The postseason pressure is off, the media attention surrounding his off-field issues has faded, and he’s closing games behind one of the best rotations in the American  League. Beyond that, I’m going on a “gut feeling” here and predicting that Osuna enjoys a post-hype renaissance, much like Edwin Diaz last season for the Seattle Mariners. Osuna has a lot to prove and he’s finally on a team that’ll give him a shot at 50+ saves.

(5) The Houston Astros finish the regular season with 55+ wins against the AL West: The Astros finished the 2018 regular season with a record of 46-30 against AL West division opponents (9-10 vs. Seattle; 12-7 vs. Oakland; 13-6 vs. Los Angeles; and 12-7 vs. Texas). This season, Seattle has lost several key players (Cano, Diaz, Paxton, Cruz, Zunino) and Texas lost Adrian Beltre to retirement. I predict that the Astros will win 15+ games each in their season series against Texas and Seattle, while maintaining a similar record (12 or 13 wins) against Oakland and Los Angeles. I think that adds up to roughly 55 wins..

That’s all folks. Please be courteous when these predictions look ridiculous at this time next year!

Featured Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle

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