3 bold predictions for Astros, Yordan Alvarez ahead of Opening Day

Regardless of scandal or major departures, the Houston Astros’ title window always seems to be wide open. They do not merely plug in players to replace stars like Carlos Correa or Gerrit Cole. They find and develop new ones like Framber Valdez, Jeremy Pena and Cristian Javier. The result was a World Series Championship last season and an ironclad grip of the American League the last half-decade.

This season, though, there seems to be more doubt creeping around Minute Maid Park than there has been in a long time. 2022 AL Cy Young Justin Verlander had long been the linchpin of this pitching rotation and a valued veteran presence among a slew of young arms. He is now gone. Jose Altuve, arguably the greatest player in franchise history and the unquestioned heart and soul of the Astros, will miss more than two months with a fractured thumb.

Every empire falls eventually. And yet, with Yordan Alvarez leading a still-imposing lineup, it is hard to imagine Houston in ruins. With Opening Day looming, here are three bold predictions that will attempt to sort out if the Astros are likely to defend their crown successfully or be overthrown by a new ambitious ruler.

Astros will fall behind early in the AL West

Did I mention Jose Altuve is the heart and soul of this club? Through the highs and lows, the eight-time All-Star has been the face of this polarizing ballclub. His absence cannot be replaced by one player. Fellow stalwart Michael Brantley will also not be ready for Opening Day and has struggled to stay on the field these last couple of seasons. The pitching staff is not without its own injury concerns with Lance McCullers Jr. still working his way through rehab for an elbow injury.

The Astros have dealt through some of these issues before and always emerged at or near the top by season’s end. But as they get weaker, the Seattle Mariners get stronger. Who knows what could have happened had Alvarez not solidified his stardom with a three-run walk-off home run in Game 1 of the American League Division Series? Well, he did and a sweep ensued, but those seemed like a grumblings of a Seattle team destined for a full-fledged breakout.

Julio Rodriguez will look to build off a great rookie campaign and lead a lineup rife with power. The pitching staff has a solid blend of veterans and budding stars. It all just seems like the perfect storm. The Astros will again weather the adversity well-enough to clinch their seventh consecutive postseason berth, but not enough to retain AL West regular season supremacy.

Yordan Alvarez will be the 2023 AL MVP

Aaron Judge’s absurd 2022 MVP season and Shohei Ohtani’s unicorn nature overshadowed what was an excellent season for Yordan Alvarez. That should not be the case, this year, though. At age 25, he is not even in his prime yet. Alvarez can put together an elite offensive line that will earn him AL MVP honors.

While his stats may suggest otherwise, anointing Alvarez as the best in the league is surely a bold statement to make with Ohtani in the mix. The Los Angeles Angels star does not necessarily have to be great in either pitching or hitting to be crowned MVP for a second time. Just excelling in both of those areas is enough to make him a favorite among the writers. Alvarez will have his work cut out for him.

But after hitting .306 with 37 homer runs to go with an eye-opening 1.019 OPS and 6.8 WAR, expect the slugger to be up to the task. He can realistically belt 50 home runs this season and should have plenty of opportunities to drive runners home. Altuve not being in the lineup does allow pitchers to make Alvarez even more a clear focal point, but he has more composure at the plat than people may realize. He lowered his strikeouts and increased his walk rate last season.

Alvarez has taken the strides needed to set himself up for a big campaign. Expect 2023 to be the year of Yordan.

Astros starting pitching staff will still be among the best

There is uncertainty surrounding Houston’s pitching rotation with Verlander signing with the New York Mets, but they again have a strong succession plan in place. Valdez is the Opening Day starter and should not be rattled by his new ace status. He recorded a 2.82 ERA and nearly had 200 strikeouts in just over 200 innings pitched last season. In a staff that contains multiple question marks, Valdez brings stability.

Javier will be the X-factor. The 26-year-old could be well on his way to earning his first All-Star selection if everything goes as expected. Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy stepped up in a big way last year and should continue to prop up the middle and back-end of this staff with steady numbers.

The Astros will not lead the AL in ERA like they did in 2022 (I expect the Mariners to get them here as well), but they will be right near the top even without the reigning Cy Young. Manager Dusty Baker just has too much talent at his disposal.

The culture and talent are still in place for the Astros to collectively achieve big success ahead of Opening Day. Just maybe not as much as in years past. That is the curse for a team with nowhere to go but down.

The post 3 bold predictions for Astros, Yordan Alvarez ahead of Opening Day appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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