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By Joe Kazmar
For the Record 

Kaz's Korner

Astros chances of repeating grows slimmer every day

 

Last updated 3/28/2023 at 8:54pm

Tomorrow, the Houston Astros will begin the long 162-game trek to become the first team since the 2000 New York Yankees to repeat as world champions when they open the new season at Minute Maid Park against the Chicago White Sox and try to extend their opening-game success to 11 straight victories,

Houston also could become the first team to win three consecutive pennants since the Yankees’ run of four straight from 1998-2001, More notably, of course, Houston won World Series titles in 2017 and 2022 along with American League pennants in 2019 and 2021.

The Astros also became only the second team to appear in six consecutive League Championship Series , joining the Atlanta Braves, who made eight straight NCLS appearances from 1991-1999 (with no playoffs in 1994 due to a season-ending playoff strike) according to the Houston Chronicles’ special edition “Astros 2023” that appeared Sunday.

All this hype looks great and can really get Houston Astros fans higher than a kite, except in reality, the team will be much weaker than it was at this time last season.

There should be no debate about the Astros becoming world champions last season because of their strong pitching staff.

And in reality, only three of Houston’s five starting pitchers will be available. Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was traded to the New York Mets last fall and Lance McCullers III is still having arm problems that kept him out of action for more than half of last season.

So the ace of this year’s Astros’ pitching staff will be Framber Valdez, who is scheduled to start tomorrow’s season opener against the White Sox.

Behind him is Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia from last year’s staff plus Jose Urquidy and rookie Hunter Brown. Most teams would be happy to have a starting pitching staff that strong, but for the Astros it’s weaker than last season and a concern to Manager Dusty Baker.

Baker is also concerned that three of his best offensive producers have had tough spring trainings—outfielder Michael Brantley is still having problems with his shoulder that was surgically repaired last fall, slugger Yordan Alvarez who just started swinging a bat last week because of a hand injury and Jose Altuve, who suffered a broken thumb and will be will be out until the end of May.

One of Houston’s top off-season deals involved free agent Jose Abreu, who spent the last nine seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He will replace aging Yule Gurriel, who slumped more than 100 points after winning the American League batting title in 2021.

The Astros tried to obtain Abreu six years ago, but their offer was $4 million shy of the $68 million, six-year contract that he accepted from the White Sox. He had one of his best seasons in 2022 when he batted .304 with a .378 on-base percentage. Both were his highest figures since 2014.

Right after the World Series concluded, the Astros offered Abreu a three-year $58.5 million contract that signaled the end of Gurriel’s tenure in Houston.

Despite the fact the Astros will probably be slow coming out of the gate this season, all seven baseball writers on the USA Today Sports Weekly staff picked Houston to win the American League West Division Championship in this week’s edition.

The New York Yankees (4) and Toronto Blue Jays (3) garnered all of the votes in the AL East Division while the Cleveland Guardians (4) and Chicago White Sox (3) nabbed all the votes in the AL Central Division.

The Atlanta Braves corralled all seven votes in the National League East Division, the St. Louis Cardinals grabbed all seven votes in the NL Central Division and the San Diego Padres (5) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2) led the NL West Division.

KWICKIES…Sam Burns sunk eight birdies on the final 10 holes for a 6-5 victory over Cameron Young Sunday in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. It was the second-largest margin in an 18-hole match in this tournament. It was the fifth victory for Burns on the PGA Tour, moving him up to No. 10 in the world. It also was worth $3.5 million while Young collected $2.2 million.

A nosebleed seat in this weekend’s Final Four NCAA national championship game at NRG Stadium in Houston will run about $240 on Ticketmaster. But when the consumer checks out, the online ticket retainer tax on a $45.79 service fee and $2.95 processing fee will bring that same ticket price to around $300. Seat prices for the Final Four start in the hundreds and will reach thousands of dollars.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Monday morning that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson requested a trade on March 2 and hasn’t heard anything back from them. Jackson said “The Ravens have not been interested in meeting my value,” It’s hard to know what his value might be because he had been offered around $300 million with $175 million guaranteed previously.

JUST BETWEEN US…This undoubtedly has been one of the wackiest Men’s March Madness Tournaments in history. Normally, if you add up the seeds in the Final Four, the total will be way under 10. This weekend’s field has Florida Atlantic University (9) vs. San Diego State (5) playing Saturday at 5:09 p.m. followed by Miami (5) vs. UConn (4). The seed total is an unbelievable 23. San Diego and UConn are the early favorites, but that shouldn’t mean a thing. Nobody had the Hurricanes, Owls, Aztecs and Huskies on the last four of their golden bracket. I really like the way the San Diego State Aztecs and UConn Huskies played last week and am picking them to play in Monday night’s championship game, with the Huskies coming out as the champion.

 

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