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| Sports |

Despite Quiet Offseason, Astros are Oddsmakers' Choice to Lead MLB in 2019

After a breakout year in 2018, Alex Bregman will miss Spring Training after a minor procedure on his elbow.
After a breakout year in 2018, Alex Bregman will miss Spring Training after a minor procedure on his elbow.
Photo by Jack Gorman
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With all deference to my colleague, Sean Pendergast, and his infinitely greater knowledge of the science and art of gambling, I do know one thing: Vegas is right more often than not. The house almost always wins after all. And according to recent reports, Las Vegas is betting on the Astros to be one of the best teams in baseball again in 2019.

The oddsmakers are setting the Astros win total in 2019 at 97.5, a full two games better than the Boston Red Sox and two-and-a-half ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2018, the prediction for the Astros was 96.5, tied with Los Angeles. Turned out to be a safe bet as the Astros won a franchise record 103 games.

What's interesting is how these preseason predictions seem to be in contrast with the relatively slow news winter around Houston (and baseball for that matter). While the team has received generally respectable marks from most media outlets for the signings of Michael Brantley and Robinison Chirinos as well as the trade for Aledmys Diaz, fans have rightfully been concerned with the losses.

In fact, while the offensive core of the team remains, guys in the everyday lineup like Marwin Gonzales, Brian McCann and Evan Gattis are gone. And with the departure of Martin Maldonado, they remain thin at catcher.

Of course, that doesn't even begin to account for the losses on the pitching staff. Aces (yes, aces, plural) Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will anchor the rotation, but Dallas Keuchel (still awaiting a taker in free agency) will find a new home eventually, World Series hero Charlie (freaking) Morton has moved on and Lance McCullers, Jr. will miss the entire season recovering from surgery. That leaves youngsters like Framber Veldez and Josh James along with veterans Colin McHugh and Brad Peacock to round out the starters, which seems unlikely.

Then there is the news that third baseman Alex Bregman had to undergo surgery to remove floating bodies (ew) from his elbow and will likely miss most of spring training.

Yet, despite the less-than-rosy picture that may paint, Vegas is all over the 'Stros in '19. Certainly, much of that is due to the presence of Verlander and Cole, a bullpen that seems poised to have another great season and a core that includes a former MVP in Jose Altuve, a growing postseason legend in George Springer and two more young up-and-comers in Bregman and Carlos Correa.

With that much talent, it's hard to argue with the oddsmakers even if fans are still wondering who will catch and what the back end of the rotation will look like. Hopefully, Vegas knows better than the rest of us.

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