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2022 Houston Astros: Season outlook for the defending AL champions

Even with big changes to the roster, there are still big expectations in Houston.

HOUSTON — Expectations for the Houston Astros remain high despite several key losses to the roster.

Dusty Baker is still at the helm as the team's manager, and while most teams are still trying to navigate the long MLB lockout, Baker knows from his experience how to approach the upcoming season.

According to CBS Sports, betting odds have the Astros in the playoffs pretty easily.

The over/under for wins is 92.5 for the 'Stros, eight games better than the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, which would have them winning the American League West for the fifth time since 2017.

From the Associated Press:

2021 Season: 95-67, first place, lost to Atlanta in World Series.

Manager: Dusty Baker (third season).

Opening Day: April 7 at Los Angeles Angels.

He’s Here: SS Jeremy Peña, INF Niko Goodrum, 2B Franklin Barreto, OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Hector Neris, LHP Adam Morgan, LHP Zach Rosscup.

He’s Outta Here: Pitching coach Brent Strom, SS Carlos Correa, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Yimi Garcia, LHP Brooks Raley, RHP Kendall Graveman.

Top Hitters: 1B Yuli Gurriel (AL-best .319, 15 HRs, 81 RBIs, .846 OPS), LF Michael Brantley (.311, 8, 47, .799 OPS), DH Yordan Alvarez (.277, 33, 104, .877 OPS), 2B Jose Altuve (.277, 31, 83, .838 OPS, 117 runs), 3B Alex Bregman (.270, 12, 55, .777 OPS in 91 games).

Projected Rotation: RH Justin Verlander (missed 2021 and pitched just one game in 2020 due to Tommy John surgery; 21-6, 2.58 ERA in 2019), LH Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14), RH Luis Garcia (11-8, 3.30, 167 Ks), RH Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.21), RH José Urquidy (8-3, 3.62) or RH Lance McCullers Jr. (13-5, 3.16, 185 Ks).

Key Relievers: RH Ryan Pressly (5-3, 2.25, 26/29 saves, 81 Ks), RH Ryne Stanek (3-5, 3.42, 83 Ks), RH Pedro Báez (2.08 in 4 games), RH Phil Maton (4-0, 4.97).

Outlook: After reaching the World Series for the third time in five seasons, the Astros expect to contend for a title again this year.

They lost Carlos Correa in free agency, but return most of their other key players from a team that won 95 games before losing the World Series to the Braves in six games.

Houston’s rotation should get a big boost from Verlander's return. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched just one game in the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

If the 39-year-old Verlander can return to his 2019 form when he won his last Cy Young, he can lead a rotation featuring several young pitchers who made strides last season.

Even if the rotation is improved, the strength of this team will likely remain the powerful offense, which led the majors last season with a .267 batting average.

The Astros return Yuli Gurriel, who hit .319 to win the AL batting title, and Michael Brantley, who was tied for second at .311.

Also back is Yordan Alvarez, who led the team with 33 homers and 104 RBIs in his first full season after struggling with injuries his first two years.

Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman also return and will be counted on to help rookie Jeremy Peña as he attempts to fill Correa’s huge shoes.

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