Today I answered a few questions over at Crawfish Boxes, and in return, Ryan Dunsmore was nice enough to answer some for us. (I refrained from making any pocket Altuve jabs. Please send my medal first class.)
KP: The Astros seem to be favored everywhere to win the division and even advance to the World Series. What is going to get them there this year, as opposed to last year?
RD: The table was set for the Astros to be successful with one of the best young cores in baseball. But "young" was a keyword for the 2016 Astros, who stumbled at the first sign of adversity.
The Astros improved their offensive output at two positions this offseason with Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran at catcher and designated hitter, respectively. Both players vastly improve the playoff experience level of the Astros. The Astros sacrificed a level of defense with the changes but now have their deepest offensive line since the late 90's. If the offense can cover up any mistakes made by the rotation, the Astros will make a deep run.
The Astros have plenty of household names, but which under-the-radar player will Mariners fans most be rolling their eyes and saying "not that guy again" about?
Nori Aoki? No, LL probably knows all about him. My guess is probably Chris Devenski. Devenski isn't the sexiest selection but it speaks to how many household names are on the Astros roster. Devenski was one of the Astros’ most effective relievers who was able to pitch multiple innings per outing last season.
Mariners fans will be saying "not that guy again" when Seattle knocks out the Astros starter and Devenski is still able to bring the gap over the fifth and sixth innings — giving the ball to the big guns in the bullpen: Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, and Ken Giles.
Is Dallas Keuchel fixed now?
Yes? Maybe? There weren't many red flags during Spring Training. If Keuchel is going to round back into form in 2017 there doesn't appear to be anything stopping him. Keuchel claimed his 2016 dropoff was the result of "a rubber arm.” The Astros rested their Cy Young award winner the final month of the season and can only hope he's back. It's going to be a long season if he's not.
What is the thermal exhaust port on the Astros' Death Star?
The real question is who is the Astros' Galen Erso? Probably the easiest answer would be Chris Correa (even if he didn't work for the Astros) but my money is on Kevin Goldstein. Imagine the shock when is plot is revealed.
A slow start in April and starting pitching could easily undo the Astros. Compare 2015 and 2016 for the Astros. The biggest difference was the month of April. The Astros were 15-7 in 2015 and 7-17 in 2016. Houston couldn't dig themselves out of the hole they created last season.
The Astros have depth in their starting rotation—a large amount of depth, as a matter of fact. But that depth isn't necessarily far above league average after Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel. If pitchers like Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers, and Collin McHugh dip in quality or end up on the disabled list (like McHugh currently is), the Astros could be in trouble.
Houston has the offense to counterbalance a poor run of starting pitching and the prospects to inject life into the rotation, but not for an entire season.
(Hmm, that sounds familiar. Again, many thanks to Ryan for taking the time to answer these questions.)