Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Know Your Victim Part 3: The Astros

In years past the Astros were one of the power players in the NL Central, led by a host of steroid filled pitchers and hitters they made the playoffs in 2004 and 2005. The past three years have been a small struggle for the Astros, they haven't made the playoffs, but they have been in contention in some sort of way each year. Last season they made a giant push towards the playoffs in the last two months of the season, but Carlos Zambrano and Hurricane Ike ended their postseason dreams on September 14th with a no-hitter. 

Coming into this season the Astros have the chance to possibly make a bit of noise with their lineup. Lance Berkman is one of the better first basemen in a division full of them. After Pujols he might be the most important player to his team in the division. Berkman plays a good defensive first base and can hit a ton from both sides of the plate. Noted Cub killer (and I mean killer) Carlos Lee "patrols" left field, but he is around because he is one of the best power hitters around. The man is automatic 30 homers 115 RBI every season. His defense might be awful, but his bat makes up for it and its not like Houston has a large left field anyway.  Hunter Pence is a pesky SOB who can hit a bit, but in my opinion he gets help from the ballpark he plays in. Really pence is nothing more than an annoying pest who runs up pitch counts. Miguel Tejada is a solid SS and a great hitter, but he might not be around too much longer. He lied to Congress, admitted guilt and legally speaking should be deported once the legal stuff is taken care of. Of course he is a baseball player so he will be above the law and allowed to stay. The Astros really need his bat, I'll assume he stays in the country and is allowed to play. Apart from the Cubs, Houston might have the best lineup in the division.

Pitching is a concern for the Astros this season, and what will ultimately stop them from being a real contender. Roy Oswalt is the best pitcher in the division, no question in my mind about that. He only gets to start every fifth day and after him they don't have much. Wandy Rodriguez is hardly passable as a two starter, his numbers last year were actually pretty close of Oswalt, but his career shows he is nothing more than a league average pitcher. They plan on using Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler (who I don't think allowed a hit to the Cubs last year) and Brandon Backe (who didn't get an out against the Cubs last year). None of those names scare me at all over the course of a season (Moehler will destroy the Cubs, but nobody else). 

Their bullpen is actually above average, especially at the end of games. Jose Valverde is a douche, but he gets the job done. I still don't think LaTroy Hawkins is a good pitcher, but he had some success setting up Valverde last season and could be good at it again this season. The bottom line is, I don't think their starting pitching will create enough chances for Valverde to actually close out the game for them.

This team could get hot starting pitching and win 85 games. More likely they hover around the 78-80 win range and battle the Reds and Cardinals for second place.

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