3. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros find themselves in an unexpected battle for the AL West crown with the Seattle Mariners. The Los Angeles Angels aren’t too far behind either, although the loss of Shohei Ohtani likely relegates them to fighting for a Wild Card. The bottom line is this — the defending World Series champs have a much harder path back to the title this year than expected on Opening Day.
Houston has built a historically-good starting rotation on the backs of spin rate gods Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton. In a combined 40 starts, the trio has pitched to a 22-4 record with a 2.09 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine. All three have seen a marked rise in performance since arriving in Houston and working with the best analytics department in the league.
If Noah Syndergaard, a native Texan, has any say over his potential new home, it’s hard to imagine there being a much more attractive option than Houston.
The Astros ran roughshod over the league last year with one of the most complete lineups in recent MLB history. After a slow start, the bats are coming around again and the team is 21-10 since May 6. Houston still looks like the team to beat in their division, but stocking up on another power arm would put make them the hands-down favorite to keep the dynamic lineups of New York and Boston in check. Trade discussions would center around right-hander Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker, who both project as future All-Stars.