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Monday, February 14, 2011

MLB Preview: Houston Astros

The Houston Astros were the second to last pick in our Team Draft, behind teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals. They're not what you would call, at this point, an exciting team.

Like the Orioles, relevance is something they have struggled to find over the last few years. In a division featuring marquee franchises like the Cardinals and Cubs, the Astros are easy to miss. The upstart Reds now appear to be building a perennial contender and the Brewers, having signed Grienke, seem serious about winning.

And thanks to those pesky Pirates, they can't even be the best at losing! Jeez!

It's hard to believe the Astros won an NL Pennant as recently as 2005. But the days of Biggio and Bagwell are long gone. Their two most recent stars, Berkman and Oswalt, are with other clubs. Without a real marquee position player or pitcher to build around (except maybe Carlos Lee, who's 34 years old), the Astros are faced with the difficult task of rebuilding their entire franchise. Oh yeah, and the team is for sale.

The Astos started last last season 0-6 and were never over .500 once the entire season. They were, however, able to post a respectable 40-33 record in the second half and finish ten games below .500 at 76-86.

The 'Stros do have some talent. . Outfielders Carlos Lee (24HR/89RBI), Hunter Pence (25HR/91RBI) and Michael Bourn (52 SB) are all good players if not super stars. Pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers each had 11+ Wins and an ERA under 3.65 in 2010 (which is about 10 wins higher and 3 points lower than any Pirates pitcher). Despite the fact that the last two names in their rotation are Norris and Figueroa (who?!), the Astros had as many quality starts last year (95) as your World Champion San Francisco Giants. Seriously, look it up.

So all is not lost. The discouraging news is that the Astros were unable to do much of anything to upgrade their team this off-season. They signed Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, both decent players, but did not exactly construct a lineup opposing teams will fear. Their passive offseason may be more evidence of the team preparing to undergo a complete overhaul. Did I mention they're for sale?

Here is the Astros expected opening day starting roster:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace
2B: Bill Hall
SS: Clint Barmes
3B: Chris Johnson (not of the Tennessee Titans)
LF: Carlos Lee
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Hunter Pence
P1: Wandy Rodriguez
P2: Brett Myers
P3: J.A. Happ
P4: Bud Norris
P5: Nelson Figueroa
Cl: Brandon Lyon

Best Case Scenario:
Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence both have monster seasons and stay off the DL. Michael Bourn steals 70 bases. Rodriguez, Myers and Happ all have 14+ win seasons and form one of the more underrated pitching trios in the league. Castro, Wallace and Johnson do something so that more than 12 people know who they are. The Cardinals fail to sign Albert Pujols before the season starts causing drama and distraction in St. Louis. The Cubs, Brewers and Pirates all sink below .500 early on and stay there. The Astros hang with the Reds for the division lead until mid-August when the Astros fall away. They finish the season with 85 wins, miss the playoffs but have something to build on. The team is sold to a local buyer committed to keeping the team in Houston.

Worst Case Scenario:
Carlos Lee's batting average falls from .241 to .141. Sick of people assuming he has a speech impediment, Wandy Rodriguez changes his first name to Randy only to go 0-5 in his first 7 seven starts with a 6.50 ERA and lands himself on the 60 day DL. Castro, Wallace and Johnson reveal themselves to not be big-league baseball players at all, but instead members of the witness protection program. No one notices. By the All-Star Break the Astros as 20 game below .500 and a local buyer walks away from a potential deal to buy the team and keep the team in Houston. Russian zillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov steps in and begins talks with Commissioner Bud Selig to buy the team and move it to Stalingrad. Carlos Lee's batting average falls from .141 to .041. The Pirates shock the world and finish in 5th place, forcing the Astros to the very bottom of the NL Central.

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