HOUSTON -- The cancellation of more than half of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic will cost the Astros the chance to become the first team in history to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons, but they are set up nicely to sprint from wire to wire in a 60-game schedule.
Coming off a season in which they were eight outs away from winning their second World Series title in three years, the Astros -- despite losing star pitcher Gerrit Cole to the Yankees -- remain loaded headed into the 2020 truncated season. With a core led by Alex Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa, José Altuve, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, the Astros will be one of the favorites in the American League.
• Play Ball: MLB announces 2020 regular season
Though they lost Cole, the Astros will have pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. returning from Tommy John surgery after not starting a game in nearly two years. Following a tumultuous offseason -- which included the dismissals of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, and the hiring of James Click as GM and Dusty Baker as manager -- the Astros are set to return to the field for the first time since the coronavirus shut down camp in mid-March.
The best 60-game stretch in Astros history happened several times last year, when the club went 43-17 five different times (overlapping at some point) to win a franchise-record 107 games. Houston started last season 40-20 en route to its third consecutive AL West title and 100-win season.
• FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season
Here are some FAQs about the 2020 season:
When will camp start, and where?
The Astros said earlier this month they plan to hold Spring Training 2.0 at Minute Maid Park, where several players have been working out since May. Players are expected to report by July 1. Many of the team’s star players, including Bregman, Springer, Correa, Altuve, McCullers and Josh Reddick, live in Houston year-round.
When is Opening Day?
Major League Baseball anticipates beginning its 2020 regular season July 23-24. The full schedule has been sent to the MLBPA for approval and is expected in the next week or so. Until then, we won’t know if the Astros start at home or on the road, or who they will face in that opening series.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
The proposed 60-game schedule will feature divisional play, with the remaining portion of each team’s games against their opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (i.e., East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West), in order to mitigate travel. That means, in addition to playing the Mariners, Angels, A’s and Rangers 10 times apiece in the AL West, the Astros will face the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Rockies and D-backs of the NL West for the remaining 20 games.
While the Astros could get their first look at Madison Bumgarner in a D-backs uniform and Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. with the Padres, the matchup with the Dodgers brings tons of intrigue. The Astros beat the Dodgers in seven games to win the 2017 World Series -- the same year MLB ruled Houston used an illegal sign-stealing scheme throughout the regular season. That led Dodgers star Cody Bellinger to call out Altuve (the 2017 AL MVP) and Correa to stand up for his teammate this spring. Oh, and former AL MVP Mookie Betts is now with the Dodgers. This will be must-see TV.
How are the Astros’ injured players doing?
Verlander underwent surgery on his groin March 17 and was expected to miss up to eight weeks into the season, but the expectation is that he’ll now be ready for the resumption. Last week, Verlander posted a video on Instagram of him throwing off the mound without any apparent hesitations.
The reigning AL Cy Young winner said he began noticing discomfort in his groin while he was working out in the offseason. When he got to camp in February and started throwing off the mound with high effort, it started bothering him more. Surgery was discussed at the time, but Verlander tried to work through it as Grapefruit League games started.
As a result, Verlander said he ended up straining his lat muscle because he was changing his mechanics to compensate for his groin injury. While rehabbing his groin, he felt it pop, which concerned him enough to talk to the training staff again and seek a second opinion, which meant a visit to Philadelphia to see Dr. William Meyers, who performed the groin surgery.
What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
With the team pretty much set heading into Spring Training in February, the biggest race to watch was the fifth starter. Jose Urquidy, a rookie who burst onto the scene last year, was considered the No. 4 starter, with Austin Pruitt, Josh James and Framber Valdez locked in a battle for the fifth spot. As camp progressed, rookie Bryan Abreu emerged as a legitimate candidate for the fifth spot, as well.
How will rosters be different? How will those changes affect my team?
Expanded rosters will work like so: Teams can field a 30-man Opening Day active roster, which they must reduce to 28 players at the season’s two-week mark. Two weeks later, on Day 29 of the season, they must slice that roster to 26 players. They will carry 26 players for the rest of the season.
Whichever pitchers don’t get the fifth spot in the rotation are likely to make the club now as relievers, which is good news for James, Abreu and Valdez, as well as Cy Sneed. Garrett Stubbs likely makes it as a third catcher, with speedy infielder-outfielder Myles Straw and utility player Jack Mayfield in good standing, as well.
In addition to the standard 40-man roster, teams will be allowed to carry 20 additional players on a taxi squad. Teams can take up to three taxi squad players on the road (if three, one must be a catcher). The regular injured list will be for 10 days in 2020 for both position players and pitchers, as in 2019. MLB is also instituting a special COVID-19-related injured list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure or are exhibiting symptoms. There would not be a minimum or maximum number of days players can spend on this list; any player who tests positive will not be allowed to return until he tests negative twice.
Players optioned or outrighted off the roster must remain that way for a minimum of 10 days before they can be recalled.
What are they saying?
“It’s been a tough year for us. Everybody knows those reasons, and then you compound it with this situation. Listen, it’s about playing baseball, it’s about the players on the field, it’s about our fans watching, and that’s what we want to get back to.” -- owner Jim Crane
“Obviously, we’re all excited that we have a plan going forward and we have a lot of specifics. It gives us a lot of things to work on. We’ve got a group here that’s been processing the news as it has come in. We are trying to figure out what exactly we need to do to get things going. The staff here has been awesome about making sure that everything here is as ready to go as it can be. At the end of the day, the major feeling here is excitement and anxiousness to get going.” -- Click
• Baker: 'We want to go back to where we belong'
How can I watch the games?
All regular-season games not airing on national TV can be seen on AT&T SportsNet Southwest in Houston. Stream out-of-market Astros games LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices.
How can I listen?
All regular-season games can be heard on 790 AM (KBME) in Houston. Listen to every Astros game LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.