The Houston Astros were my pick to win the American League West last year. In fact, I thought they would be the team losing to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. However, they were hampered by a dismal 7-17 April and went on to go just 4-15 against the Texas Rangers. If you take away their 11-29 combined record between that slow start and their struggles against the Rangers, they were an impressive 73-49 the rest of the year and against everyone else, one of the best records in baseball.
They did that despite defending Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel dealing with shoulder soreness on the way to posting a 9-12 record with a 4.55 ERA, and despite top pitching prospect Lance McCullers Jr. being limited to just 14 starts because of his own shoulder problems. Both Keuchel and McCullers are expected to be healthy and back to their dominant selves in 2017.
That’s already going to make a big difference. But in the meantime the Astros made three impressive moves this week to bring them closer to the Rangers, at least on paper: They hired Alex Cora as bench coach, agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Josh Reddick on a four-year deal and then traded for catcher Brian McCann of the Yankees. All three of these moves are significant, both on and off the field.