2022 record: 106-56, first in American League West
Offseason headlines: Manager Dusty Baker re-upped for another season soon after Houston beat Philadelphia to win its second World Series in six years. Not standing pat, the Astros signed 2020 American League MVP 1B Jose Abreu to a three-year contract and claimed former Toronto reliever Matt Gage off waivers. Abreu's power totals dipped last season but he still batted .304 with 40 doubles for the White Sox. Yes, Houston lost Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to the Mets, but it re-signed OF Michael Brantley (one year) and setup man Rafael Montero (three years) and inked No. 2 starter RHP Cristian Javier to an extension through 2027. DH Yordan Alvarez didn't make his spring debut until March 23 due to an injured left hand.
Spring storylines: Eight-time All-Star 2B Jose Altuve needed surgery to repair a broken right thumb after being hit by a pitch while playing for Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic. Initial reports said the three-time batting champ would be out 8-10 weeks, returning sometime in May. A strong spring by LHP Framber Valdez confirmed he is ready to replace Verlander in the No. 1 role. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. injured his elbow in mid-February and won't be ready by Opening Day. Neither will Brantley (shoulder). 3B Alex Bregman returned from a broken left index finger sustained in Game 6 of the World Series and looks to return to his 2018-19 All-Star form.
Young guns: RHP Hunter Brown, the No. 1 prospect in the Astros' system per MLB Pipeline, is expected to fill in during McCullers' absence. Brown was 2-0 with a 0.89 ERA in seven games (two starts) in a call-up late last season after earning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year honors. Catching prospects Korey Lee and Yanier Diaz could both push 36-year-old starter Martin Maldonado (.600 OPS in 2022) for playing time.
Fall feeling: The 73-year-old Baker managed 25 seasons before winning his first World Series, beating the Phillies in six games last autumn. Unless Altuve winds up missing extended time and Houston struggles to replace his bat and leadership, the veteran skipper's wait for a second title (and third straight pennant) will be much shorter.
Odds, even: The defending champs are picked to win the American League West for the third straight season and sixth time in seven years (-175 at DraftKings and -185 at FanDuel). Most sites have Houston as a +600 favorite to repeat in the World Series.
--Field Level Media