Thursday, March 20, 2008

30 Teams in 30 Days: Houston Astros

A look back: The Astros fell off from where they've previously been, and the new look team doesn't bear much resemblance to the previous incarnations. Phil Garner is no longer the manager, Tim Purpura is no longer the GM and the Astros are now looking more like a second-division team. In fact, they could fall a lot further than that. Behind Pittsburgh? It's actually become a reality, and the Astros will have to make sure the Central's cellar doesn't swallow them up.

Positives on the field: Roy Oswalt is still one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, but there's a drop-off after him. Still, Oswalt is a very nice ace to have, giving Houston a streak stopper once every five days should it become necessary to have. Jose Valverde could provide a nice niche in the closer role if he becomes more dependable than Brad Lidge was AP (after Pujols)

On the hitting side, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are both dependable power hitters, giving the Astros the ability to get runs home if they can get men on base.

Negatives on the field: The drop-off is pretty pronounced after Oswalt. Wandy Rodriguez is not a No. 2 starter. I'm sorry, he's just not. Behind him, Woody Williams and Brandon Backe aren't anything special. Unless you've got to face Oswalt, Astro pitching scares nobody. That includes Valverde, who could easily become another Brad Lidge, a gas can who just had one good year.

Elsewhere, why would the Astros trade for Miguel Tejada? Houston needs to rebuild, not take on a huge salary that they would be paying too much for. Tejada is overrated and overpaid, and the Astros will learn that the hard way.

Outlook: Houston just doesn't look like it's got anything special. The Astros' moves made no sense, as Houston acted like they're a contender by grabbing a closer and a former All-Star shortstop, when the proper course of action is to go with youth to rebuild the team. That type of foolish thinking usually comes back to bite a team when they're faced with the reality of the regular season.

Projected finish: 6th in NL Central. Season opener is march 31 against San Diego at Petco Park. Astros home opener is April 7 against St. Louis at Minute Maid Park.

Spring base: Osceola County Stadium, Kissimmee, Fla. The Astros play most of their games against teams in central Florida and on both coasts.

Fan of the team?: Check out Crawfish Boxes, the Astros fan community.

Come back tomorrow: The road trip heads to the bridges of Pittsburgh, specifically the Roberto Clemente Bridge and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Funeral for a Friend.

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