The 2021 regular season is almost around the corner. Spring Training camps will open in less than two weeks and pitchers and catchers will be the first to report and get ready for a long, beautiful season.
The Astros will begin the upcoming campaign with a different scenario and with the sense that they’ll have to be better if they want to win the AL West. As we know, George Springer is no longer with the team, Justin Verlander won’t likely pitch in ‘21, and the team doesn’t have an established, proven closer yet and will probably play without one.
We’ve seen at least three factors that could play a huge role in the Astros’ potential success this year. Let’s take a look at them...
1. Forrest “X-FACTOR” Whitley
Forrest Whitley can be for the Astros what I call a miracle. I know some fans may be tired of high expectations around Whitley. But you have to remember this guy is only 23 years old and has a marvelous arsenal.
If things pan out for him and he stays healthy all year long, he might have an immediate impact on the team this year. Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine what could happen if Whitley comes up to the bigs at some point and delivers right away, just like (for example) Sixto Sánchez did with the Marlins in ‘20.
Beautiful, uh? And, hey, this is not impossible. The kid has Major-League stuff, he just needs to be consistent and healthy to make an impression. But he could be the guy that takes the Astros to a new level.
2. It’s time for the rebounds
Hey, even with Springer’s departure, the Astros’ lineup is still pretty dangerous and enviable. They have power, plate discipline, speed, high batting average... EVERYTHING! They just need their hitters to be in a good shape.
For their offensive, it’ll be pretty a game-changer if players such as José Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Alex Bregman can leave their 2020 behind and be as productive as they were before last season.
At the end of the day, in 2019, Gurriel had a 40-double, 30-homer campaign, Bregman was the runner-up for the AL MVP award, and Altuve had a .903 OPS with a career-high in home runs (31) despite playing in 124 games. The Astros need that kind of production from them in 2021, plus having Yordan Álvarez healthy.
3. New role for Presley
Throughout his eight-year career in the Majors, Ryan Pressly has recorded only 18 saves, and 12 of them came in 2021. Of course, he didn’t need to get saves, as his perennial job was to serve things up for the closer.
But this time, he will likely be the ninth-inning guy in Houston. And there’s the risk of seeing a bad Presley version. Will he repeat his early-2021 performance or will he dominate just like he’s done over the past three years?
There’s no way to know that. But the Astros are hoping he can be at least a short-term solution so that they don’t have to spend in an established closer this time, especially considering that they’re all almost gone (Brad Hand to Washington, Liam Hendriks to Chicago, and Alex Colomé to Minnesota).
Would you add another key factor or player for the Astros’ success in 2021? Tell us in the comments!