2010 Houston Astros
What’s the biggest joke in the NL central this season that doesn’t involve Dusty Baker, Prince Fielder and the Pope walking into a bar? If you guessed the Pirates, I’ve got bad news for you. At least the Pirates can justify their porous roster with a projected payroll figure under 40 million dollars and a crop of young major league ready talent knocking at the door. The Astros on the other hand, with their current roster intact will spend over twice that amount at about 91 million and have the potential to be just as bad, if not worse.
The biggest threats in Houston’s offense are once again Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee who both look like they should be batting 3rd and 4th for a “Beer League” softball team and not crowding the middle of the order for a Major League Baseball team. But don’t let their pudgy faces and rotund figures fool you, both of these guys pack a punch and have been known to give Red’s pitchers fits throughout their careers.
The biggest loss from last season in the hitting department definitely has to be Miguel Tejada who packed up his roids and headed back to Baltimore. The Astros attempted to replace some of Tejada’s lost numbers with newly acquired third baseman Pedro Feliz, but with a .254 career batting average and declining home run numbers over the past 3 seasons, you might have to wonder what the ‘stros were thinking for 4.5 mil on this one.
The rest of the lineup is filled with a crop of no namers, (Tommy Manzella), has beens, (Feliz) and never was’s (Kaz Matsui). Throw in super utility man and former Red, Jeff Keppinger and you’re looking at a below average lineup with only two guys (Berkman and Lee) that can do any significant damage on a consistent basis. The lineup leaves a lot to be desired and will definitely give Enron sized headaches to Astros fans all over Houston this season.
The Astros pitching staff is once again anchored by perennial “Tomo Ohka all-star” Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has been spending an awful lot of time banged up over the past few seasons but always seems to limp his way onto the mound and channel his inner Greg Maddux to put a hurting on the Reds time after time. If the Astros want to have any chance of climbing out of the basement of the NL central this season they’ll need a healthy season from Oswalt to start with.
The rest of the staff is made up of Wandy Rodriguez, This “Buds” for you Norris, Brett Myers and possibly former Red Brian Moehler. (yeah, I WTF’d too) Rodriguez had a breakout year in ’09 and is clearly a frontrunner to be the future ace of the staff. Norris will need to have a breakout year this year for the rotation to hold its own in the central. Myers might need to spend some time getting used to being thrown back in the rotation (and not throwing his wife around) after spending the last couple years bouncing around from the bullpen to the starting rotation with the Phillies. The fifth spot is wide open but if Brian Moehler is the front runner for the spot, you know these guys are in trouble.
What’s really going to kill Astros’ fans this season is going to be their men in relief. The middle relievers are a crop of no namers that have never done much of anything in the bigs. Guys like Tim Byrdak, (who?) Jeff Fulchino, (who?) and Chris Sampson (he’s the guy with the magic hair, right?) will potentially anchor their middle relief and it will be up to management to find the right combo of guys that can get consecutive outs on a nightly basis.
The closing duties will be decided over the spring between serial setup-men Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom with the loser taking over the setup role, but don’t be surprised if the ‘stros don’t end up going to a closer-by-committee with this lack of talent at the end of the pen. With this group of bums towing the relief duties for Houston, you have to believe that by September, Astros fans will be longing for the days of Brad Lidge going mental and blowing saves by the truckload.
In 2009 the Astros went an overachieving 74-88. There’s essentially no way I can see the Astros breaking 70 wins this season with the current roster intact, not to mention the fact that it will be hard for ownership to justify keeping Berkman, Lee, and Oswalt on the roster when they start July in last place in the Central with their salaries at a combined 1 and a 1/3 times that of the Pirates.
As a whole this team doesn't seem to have a direction, with not nearly enough veteran talent to contend and little to no young talent that would indicate a team in the rebuilding process.
In 2010 I see Berkman and Oswalt finding new homes before the season is over and the Astros finishing a solid 68 – 94 and dead last in the NL Central, now there’s your punchline.