The Astros are facing a tough battle with A’s in AL West

The Houston Astros don’t have the AL West automatically locked up in 2020.

The Houston Astros have been about as dominant as a team can be over the past three seasons. They won 101 games in 2017, only to win 103 in 2018 and 107 last season. How much of that was helped due to sign-stealing remains up for debate.

This success has led to three straight AL West titles and it would appear the Astros enter the 2020 season as overwhelming favorites to win a fourth straight division crown. But fans should not forget about how great the Oakland A’s have been the past few seasons.

The A’s have won 97 games in back-to-back seasons with an unfortunate ending coming in the Wild Card Game both times. Oakland even went 8-11 against the Astros last year, which is not great but still not terrible considering Houston only lost 55 total games. Different circumstances should make the AL West race much more competitive this season.

Astros dealing with plenty of noise

The Astros were the most-hated team in professional sports just a few months ago. Not having fans in the stands will ease some of the hate directed toward the team, but players on other teams have not forgotten about the cheating and the subsequent lying and non-apologies.

Then there is the fact Dusty Baker is in his first season as manager after A.J. Hinch was forced out. There appears to be enough talent to overcome the change, but this is not an ideal year to undertake a new team philosophy.

The distractions all come up before mentioning the A’s are returning the entire core of the 97-win 2019 squad. Reliever Blake Treinen is the most notable departure, yet he was a negative WAR player last season.

Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman both posted WAR totals over 8.0 last season and are back in 2020, as is the young Matt Olson. Mike Fiers is back after a 15-win season and his teammates have plenty of reasons to rally around him after the hate he took for exposing his former Astros team.

The Astros biggest departure this offseason came when Gerrit Cole took a record deal with the New York Yankees. One pitcher won’t derail the season, however, a 60-game slate could mean one or two games decides a division champion.

The shortened year is one of the more glaring reason why the Astros aren’t locks to win the West beyond the existence of all the distractions. This will be a year where a team expected to finish last can go on a run and reach the postseason. Or a team like the Astros could have a bad week and never be able to recover.

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The A’s and Astros were separated by a total of 10 wins in 2019. There appears to be no way that margin holds up in a 60-game season barring a total collapse by the A’s. Getting the entire young core back in Oakland with another year of experience should mean the team has a legitimate shot at the division before the process of tearing down the roster begins in the Bay Area.

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