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Last updated 4/4/2017 at Noon

Only time will tell if the extra millions of dollars the Houston Astros spent on more talent will reap huge dividends after the 162-game 2017 season ends for them on October 1.

General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who is beginning his sixth year for owner Jim Crane, believes that this is the best team he has put together on paper.

Luhnow is on his third manager in A.J. Hinch, who has taken the team to the AL West playoffs during his two-year tenure where he has compiled a record of 170-152.

According to Sunday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle, “all the Astros really have to show for Crane’s ownership is three playoff victories and one postseason win.

“They haven’t even won their division since then-Commisioner Bud Selig tricked them into giving up the National League for the AL. This roster should be playing in mid-October. If not, it’ll be time to start asking the big questions,” the article stated.

The Astros should win 90-plus games, nab the American League West pennant for the first time and earn a berth in the post-season for just the second time since appearing in the 2005 World Series for the only time in franchise history.

Crane finally loosened his tightly-secured purse strings and let Luhnow pursue the best free-agent talent that was available last winter.

The team payroll jumped to $122,407,233 but still ranks only eighteenth of the 30 major league teams.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the most extravagant franchise with their $225.6 million payroll, followed by Detroit ($199.76) and the New York Yankees ($195.2). The two teams on the bottom of the list are Milwaukee ($60.8) and San Diego ($61.4).

The Astros began a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners on Monday. Seattle was picked to finish second behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West with Houston a close third according to a poll of baseball writers and sportscasters.

The Astros picked up several players to help beef up the bottom of the batting order—Carlos Beltran, Josh Riddick, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and also starting pitcher Charlie Morton.

Besides these free agents there also will be some new faces the ardent Astros’ fans have only seen after the roster expansion last September—Yuli Gurriel, Joe Musgrove, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock and Jandel Gustave.

When starting pitcher Collin McHugh recovers from his “dead arm” issues and comes off the 10-day disabled list, one of the 25-players on the opening-day roster will be demoted to Class AAA Fresno. The Astros broke spring training camp with 13 pitchers and 12 position players.

McHugh, who finished the 2016 season 13-10 and a 4.34 ERA, is rehabilitating well, threw 65 innings simulating four innings at spring training Saturday and flew from West Palm Beach, Fla. to Houston that night to be on hand for the opening-day festivities that took place Monday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

I dispute what the baseball gurus predict about the Astros’ third-place finish in the AL West Division. The team will be carried offensively by what the Chronicle calls the “Core Four” consisting of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman.

This conglomeration of talent should be around for quite some time, averaging 22-27 in age, and are among the best at their respective positions.

Hinch will probably use the lineup from 1-9: Springer, Bregman, Altuve, Correa, Beltran, McCann, Yurriel, Riddick and Evan Gattis.

This lineup should produce many more runs than in past seasons and for sure fewer strikeouts.

I’m pretty excited!!!

KWICKIES…I’m also excited about college baseball, namely Army where my grandson Logan Smith continues to shine in the Black Knights’ bullpen. Army took three of four from Lafayette, losing the first game of a doubleheader Saturday 10-6, winning the nightcap 10-5, and sweeping two Sunday 5-4 and 10-9. Logan helped by blanking the hosting Lafayette in his two innings of work, giving up one hit and striking out three.

With the Kentucky Derby coming up the first weekend in May, trainer Todd Pletcher expects to have as many as five starters when the Triple Crown season begins May 6 at Churchill Downs. Pletcher has sent 45 horses to the Kentucky Derby, three shy of the record owned by his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas.

Things are expected to get ugly after the Oakland Raiders announced they were leaving town for Las Vegas. Just ask NFL fans in Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis and Los Angeles. According to Sunday’s Houston Chronicle “Nothing good comes from a team leaving town other than the owner and the new city.”

Starting San Francisco Giants’ opening-day ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner had a day to remember Sunday when he pitched seven innings, gave up three runs and struck out 11 Arizona Diamondbacks’ hitters. Offensively, Bumgarner slugged two solo home runs and left the game in the top of the eighth with a 5-3 lead. Former Houston Astros’ closer Mark Melancon, who had signed a four-year $62 million contract blew the save and lost the game for Bumgarner 6-5.

And speaking of huge contracts, LA Dodger pitcher Clay Kershaw is the highest paid player in the major leagues this season with a hefty $33 million deal.

Despite having tornado warnings within 25 miles of the Golf Club of Houston near Humble, the Shell Houston Open managed to get in the final 18 holes of the tournament Sunday. Rickie Fowler and Sung Kang led the first three rounds of the event, but Russell Henley made 10 birdies and won the tourney by three strokes over Kang. Fowler was in a third-place tie with Luke List as the players warmed up for this week’s Masters which begins tomorrow (Thurs.) in Augusta, Ga. This was the final year for the partnership between the Houston Golf Association and Shell after 26 years.

The 111-game winning streak of UConn, ended abruptly Saturday when Mississippi State upset the Lady Huskies 66-64 in overtime in the semifinal round of the Women’s NCAA tournament. Mississippi State then lost to South Carolina 67-55 in Sunday’s championship game.

JUST BETWEEN US…Monday’s NCAA championship basketball game pitted two No.1 teams, which is the way the selection committee always hopes happens. North Carolina justified the committee’s choice as the top team in the 68-team field.


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