I know the games still don't count, but there's something nice about having the Houston Astros back home at Minute Maid Park for a couple of exhibition games against the Milwaukee Brewers the first couple days of this week. It's the final message that the regular season, and the defense of the crown, is nigh.
So let's get ready for the Astros' 2018 regular season in the only way I know how — by placing some season long prop bets on player performances! You can find the full list of player prop bets on Bovada, and there are literally dozens of them. Here are six for the Astros that I really, really like:
JOSE ALTUVE, OVER .315 Batting Average
For a relevant frame of reference, know that Altuve's batting averages over the last four seasons have gone like this — .341, .313, .338, and .346. In all but the second of those seasons, Altuve won the batting title. At age 27, he isn't at an age where we should expect a regression. As a member of the Astros, he isn't on a team that won't protect him in the lineup, as he will likely be batting ahead of Carlos Correa (more on him in a second). So why would I go UNDER on a number that is 15 to 20 points below the range I expect Altuve to live in these optimal conditions Jeff Luhnow has created? Answer — there is no reason to go UNDER.
CARLOS CORREA, OVER 26.5 Home Runs
CARLOS CORREA, OVER 99.5 Runs Batted In
As great as this roster is, there are several bets for the Astros that feel like you're merely betting on the health of the player. In other words, if the guy stays away from injury, he should sail past the OVER on these bets. Core's power numbers are two of those bets. In 2017, Correa had 24 home runs and 84 runs batted in in 109 games. Extrapolated over 162 games, that's 38 home runs and 125 RBI. Carlos Correa is 23 years old. At some point, likely soon, he will make "the leap" and become the next A-Rod (minus PED's, we hope). Here's the thing — 2018 doesn't need to be Correa's "leap" year for you to win on the OVER for these bets. It just needs to be a year where he is reasonably healthy. I'll take it.
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JUSTIN VERLANDER, OVER 14.5 Wins
Justin Verlander was incredible down the stretch for the Astros in September, he was other worldly in the postseason, especially in the ALCS, and he's shown nothing in spring training so far that would indicate he's regressing — 1.64 ERA, 24 strikeouts, 2 walks in 22 innings. Again, this is one where we are betting on health, and even in his years where he has struggled, he's been a virtual lock to throw 200 innings. The oddsmakers are trying to scare you a little bit, since last season's Astros' leading winners were Keuchel and Morton with 14 wins. I think a healthy Verlander wins 18 easily.
ALEX BREGMAN, UNDER 20.5 Home Runs
It's hard to find bets, other than pitchers' ERAs, where it makes sense to choose the UNDER (without rooting for an injury). However, I do think this one makes sense. Bregman had 19 home runs in 155 games last season, and I think he is going to wind up being more of a doubles guy than a pure power hitter.
KEN GILES, UNDER 34.5 Saves
Save totals, in general, and betting on save totals both come down to opportunity as much as the skill level of the particular pitcher. Make no mistake, the Houston Astros should provide plenty of wins, and therefore, plenty of save opportunities in 2018. So why the UNDER on Giles' save total? Well, just to calibrate the expectations, he had 34 saves last season for a 101 win team, so the UNDER would have hit last year. Second, this is an Astro team that wins a lot of games in blowout fashion, and therefore, probably won't provide the normal number of save opportunities that your normal "really good" team provides. Finally, and most personally and importantly, I'm not sure I totally trust Giles to maintain this job over the course of the season. His regular season 2017 stats were already very deceptive, as he routinely had saves in which he allowed runners on base and runs scored. Giles played with fire a lot in 2017, and I was vocal in July that it would come back to haunt in October. Well, the Astros, as a team, were obviously able to work around it in the postseason, but it came back to haunt Giles personally, as he was lost by the time the World Series arrived. His stuff was toxic, and he was unusable. How does he recover from that? That's an underrated question heading into 2018. Add it all up and give me the UNDER.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.