Besides the COVID-shortened 2020 season, 2021 promises to be one of the most interesting and difficult to predict seasons in quite some time for the Houston Astros. There is a mix of young talent and older experience throughout the lineup with huge star power and relative unknowns. This makes predicting what kind of season it will be for a team that has been in the AL Championship game the last two years complicated.
The Astros are likely to win the AL West even if a team like the Angels is better than some might think. But, if the 'Stros are going to be good, there are a few numbers that would certainly bolster their chances.
Innings Pitched: Lance McCullers, Jr.
No pitcher on the Astros staff has higher expectations and greater pressure to perform than the young right-hander who just signed a new five-year extension last week. McCullers has electric stuff, but he has never thrown 130 innings in a season, and missed the entire 2019 season. If McCullers is going to live up to the investment the Astros have made in him, he needs to stay healthy. With his history, there is no question the Astros will be cautious with him until he can prove he won't wind up on the injured list again, but he should still be able to reach a fairly high innings count if he remains in the lineup.
Home Runs: Carlos Correa
Speaking of proving his worth, Correa enters 2021 without an agreement with the Astros on a long-term extension for a player who is expected to be one of the most coveted targets in free agency after this season. Correa has all of the tools and the postseason resume, but the Astros remain wary of his ability to stay healthy and produce for a full season. He has played more than 150 games only once in his career and never hit more than 24 home runs. He has an incentive to pass both marks this season and the Astros will need it, whether they are able to sign him to a new deal or not.
Innings Pitched: Christian Javier and Jose Urquidy combined
The starting rotation is in a rather precarious situation this year with a combination of unproven talent and some question marks about the injury status of Jake Odorizzi and Framber Valdez. No rotations remain 100 percent intact over the course of a season, but this staff has a greater level of uncertainty than most. Javier and Urquidy will be critical in sustaining the rotation for the long haul, but neither has thrown more than 55 innings in a season in their young careers. That number will have to increase dramatically in 2021.
At Bats: Yordan Alvarez
No one believes Alvarez isn't a superstar in the making. He just needs the at bats to demonstrate it. In his rookie season when he won AL Rookie of the Year, he had 27 home runs in 313 at bats due to the fact that he wasn't called up from the minors until June. Last season was lost to COVID and a knee injury that had continued to plague him from the previous season. This year, if he can get to the plate 500 times, well below the MLB average for a starter, imagine the numbers he could put up.
The over/under for the Astros win total this season in Las Vegas is 87.5. Even for a team with this many question marks, that seems low, particularly in the weak AL West. It's tough to imagine another 100-win season for the Astros, but 90 likely wins the division and puts them in a good spot for the postseason. Play ball!