In one decade, the Houston Astros franchise has completely turned around its standing in baseball, nearly as extreme a turn as we've ever seen in a 10-year span. 

Heading into the 2014 season, the Astros had never won the World Series and had just one pennant. In 52 seasons, they had been to the playoffs nine times and had one 100-win season. They were coming off three straight 100-loss seasons (106 then 107 then 111). In 2014, there was some progress to 70 wins, but little could anyone have known what would come next. 

In the last nine seasons, the Astros have gone to the playoffs eight times. They've gone to the ALCS seven straight years. They have four pennants and two World Series titles. They've won 100+ games four times. They went from laughingstock to incredibly decorated villain in a decade! 

It's been quite a run. With that run of success comes heightened expectations. 

Win total projection, odds

  • 2023 record: 90-72 (first place in AL West)
  • 2024 SportsLine win total over/under: 93.5
  • World Series odds (via SportsLine): +700

Projected lineup

  1. Jose Altuve, 2B
  2. Yordan Alvarez, DH
  3. Alex Bregman, 3B
  4. Kyle Tucker, RF
  5. José Abreu, 1B
  6. Yainer Díaz, C
  7. Chas McCormick, LF
  8. Jeremy Peña, SS
  9. Jake Meyers, CF

Switch-hitting backup catcher Victor Caratini and utility backup Mauricio Dubón will also see a decent amount of playing time. 

Projected rotation

  1. LHP Framber Valdez
  2. RHP Justin Verlander
  3. RHP Cristian Javier
  4. RHP Hunter Brown
  5. RHP José Urquidy

Verlander might get a bit of a late start after offseason shoulder issues, but he shouldn't be out long. Ronel Blanco and J.P. France add depth. Keep in mind Lance McCullers Jr. (flexor tendon surgery) can likely return in the second half and it's possible Luis García (Tommy John surgery) will be back late. 

Projected bullpen

Kendall Graveman had shoulder surgery in January and is expected to be out for the season. France and/or Urquidy could swing down the bullpen to help if there's a full and healthy rotation. 

A lot went wrong in 2023 (including losing at home)

The defending champs last season came within one win of the World Series, but they still had plenty of issues. 

Injuries hampered them some, such as McCullers, Urquidy and García in the rotation, which partly necessitated trading for Verlander less than a year after letting him walk in free agency. Alvarez only played in 114 games while Altuve appeared in just 90. 

Javier took a major step back after his breakout 2022 season. Brown was needed in the rotation for the whole season and posted a 5+ ERA as a rookie. 

Peña wasn't very good at the plate, specifically losing a lot of power from his productive rookie season. Abreu was mostly bad, to the point that it's reasonable to believe he's in his age-related decline. Bregman was inconsistent at the plate. 

Finally, and most importantly, why in the world did the Astros suck so badly at home? 

They were 39-42 at home in the regular season, which was a similar mark to teams like the Pirates, Red Sox and Angels. Did you know they were undefeated on the road (5-0!) in the playoffs? Any team doing that should win the World Series, but they were 1-5 at home. In all, the Astros went 40-47 in Minute Maid Park last season, a 162-game pace of 74-88. That just won't cut it. They must get better at home. 

Of course, this is all stuff that could be worked out internally and, again, the Astros were only one win away from the World Series.

New catcher

Now-former manager Dusty Baker made a big deal about how great now-former catcher Martín Maldonado worked with the pitching staff. Maldonado is gone and Díaz takes over as the primary catcher. 

Last year, the Astros pitchers had a 3.91 ERA with Maldonado behind the plate compared to 4.06 with Díaz. In 2022, it was 2.91 with Maldonado back there and in 2021 it was 3.82. For whatever it's worth, in much smaller samples, Jason Castro in 2021-22 combined had a better catcher ERA than Maldonado, but it was always evident the Astros pitchers loved throwing to Maldonado. We've seen times where a catching change didn't matter, but others (the Cardinals without Yadier Molina last year come to mind) where it seemed to harm the ballclub.

If Astros pitchers struggle early, look for the catching change to emerge as a storyline. 

New manager

After the sign-stealing scandal helped turn the Astros into villains for many (all?) other fan bases, the Astros front office made a great decision in bringing in Dusty Baker. He's a maestro at getting his players to love him and at shielding them as best he can from any outside criticism -- or especially at taking bullets for them instead of letting them further hang themselves in the court of public opinion. The Astros went out in 2021 and won the pennant and then in 2022 won the World Series. They fell short of their third-straight pennant last year, but Baker's tenure was successful.

Joe Espada now steps into the top job in the dugout. Finally. He'd been bandied about as a managerial candidate for years and passed over for years. He was the Astros' bench coach from 2018 until getting this manager job, so he's had plenty of opportunity to learn behind Baker and previous manager A.J. Hinch. Surely he's ready. 

But he's also never been the manager, so it's possible there's a transition phase. 

What would make for a successful season?

Look, the bar is raised. The Astros are in a position for which every single MLB franchise strives. Think about it. For around 25 other teams, reaching Game 7 of the LCS in 2023 would've been considered a successful season. For many of them, it would've been wildly successful and for a few, it would've been one of their best seasons ever. 

For the Astros, it was a disappointment. From a certain point of view, those kinds of expectations are rough. From the point of view of a championship-caliber team, though, that's the way it should be. 

That's the way it remains. 

If the Astros don't at least make the World Series, the season is a failure. I don't even think a World Series loss is OK either at this point. That means it's a simple answer: 

Winning the World Series

With the talent they have here, it's reasonable to believe it happens. Again.