2023 preview, predictions: Tucker takes team MVP; will the Astros repeat?

March 27th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Teams all around baseball spent big money this offseason to try to do what the Astros did in 2022: win a World Series.

The Astros didn’t make many headlines in the offseason, except for signing slugger Jose Abreu to a three-year deal to bolster their lineup. They also lost Justin Verlander in free agency. Houston flashed its incredible starting pitching depth in last year’s playoffs and decided not to bring back Verlander, who signed with the Mets, and will roll with a rotation of , , , Luis Garcia and top prospect Hunter Brown.

The addition of Abreu to a lineup that includes , , and should improve Houston’s offense, though eight-time All-Star second baseman will miss the first two months after breaking his right thumb. General manager Dana Brown called it a “massive blow” considering Altuve’s importance to the team.

Still, Houston’s rotation and lineup are deep, and baseball’s best bullpen returns intact, which means the Astros are among the favorites to win the World Series. The Astros have played in six consecutive ALCS, winning four pennants since 2017, and they have a good shot to add a third championship banner in 2023.

What Needs to Go Right? Health. The Astros avoided major injuries last year and were able to rest their players enough during the regular season to be at full strength in October. Health will be paramount this season, especially considering they’ve already lost Altuve (fractured right thumb) for the first two months of the season and starting pitcher is out indefinitely. Alvarez (left hand soreness), Brantley (recovery from shoulder surgery) and Tucker (right ankle sprain) battled health issues in the spring, as well.

Great Unknown: The injury to McCullers has opened the door for Brown to get his shot at the starting rotation to begin the season. He dominated in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year with a 2.55 ERA, a .186 opponents’ batting average and ab 11.4 K/9 before the Astros called him up. In 20 1/3 regular-season innings with Houston, he flashed his potential with a 0.89 ERA, and he even threw three scoreless innings in the playoffs. Scouts raved about his stuff all spring, and he’ll get a shot in the rotation if he’s not derailed by end-of-spring back tightness.

Team MVP Will Be ... Tucker. We can rule out Altuve because of his fractured thumb, and there will be lingering questions about Alvarez’s sore hands. That brings us to Tucker, who hit .257 last year with 30 homers, 107 RBIs and 25 stolen bases while winning a Gold Glove in right field.

Team Cy Young Will Be ... Valdez. The lefty went 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and 31 starts last year, including a Major League-record streak of 25 consecutive quality starts. He was even better than that in the playoffs. Valdez finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting last year and is in the running to win it in 2023, but he’s clearly Houston’s ace. He’ll get the ball on Opening Day for the second consecutive season.

Bold Prediction: The Astros will win the World Series again in 2023. OK, they won it last year, so maybe it’s not that daring of a call, but considering there hasn’t been a repeat champion since the Yankees (1998-2000), it’s quite bold. When they’re at full strength like they were most of last year, the Astros are the most complete team in baseball. Mark it down. Houston will win its third championship in seven seasons, cementing its dynasty status.