Spring Training is now over, and it is time for the first ‘official’ pitch of the 2009 season. Before and after every series I will preview the upcoming pitching match-ups, update the injury report and give the status to the ‘kids’ down on the farm. The Astros open the 2009 season with a 3 game set with their division rival, the Chicago Cubs. This series and the next series, against St. Louis, will be important. Every major sports writer has picked the Cubs to win the NL Central this year and remarked at great length on how the Cardinals and Reds have improved over last season. Not once in my searching so far this pre-season have I seen any major broadcaster or analyst pick the Astros to finish higher than fourth in this division.
I say ‘let’s get it on’. On paper the Astros have a lot of question marks, how will the starting rotation fare behind Roy Oswalt? Can the veterans stay healthy and produce on the field together? Here is the key to all these questions ... games aren’t played on paper or in stats books, they are played on grass and dirt and in real life. The Astros have proven veterans on this team who know how to play hard and win, all they have to do is gel together. I’m not saying the Astros are going to walk away with the division crown, but they have a realistic shot. The Astros are in a good position to come out of the gate to a fast start and prove the doubters and nay-sayers wrong. I also have no doubt that Berkman would love to tell these so called professional baseball analysts where they can put their predictions. So here is to the 2009 season ...
This will be Carlos Zambrano’s fifth opening day start, and he is still searching for win number one. Zambrano pitched the best game of his career at Milwaukee in what was supposed to be a HOME game for the ‘Stros, tossing a no hitter. Berkman and Co. might be looking for a little payback.
Roy Oswalt takes the mound looking to build upon what was becoming a very dominant stretch run at the end of last season. Oswalt is the one of the top five pitchers of the past seven seasons and could be the staff ace for nearly every team in the NL. Let’s hope that the WBC did not put any extra wear and tear on the “Wizard of Oz”.
Last year was a dream season for Ryan Dempster; he won a career-high 17 games last year and was named to the All Star team. Dempster proved there is no place like home posting a 14-3 record at Wrigley. He had a 3-3 record away from the friendly confines and his ERA was nearly double than when he pitched at home.
Wandy Rodriguez was brilliant at times last year and looked as though he finally figured out how to pitch consistently ... and then he got injured. Rodriguez is looking to build on last year and become the pitcher that the organization had hoped he would become. On the plus side of things, Rodriguez has pitched his best at Minute Maid.
Ted Lilly had an excellent season and tallied career highs in starts (34) and strikeouts (184) on his way to posting a 17-9 season. The one glitch to last year was his 1-4 record for the Cubbies in April last year while posting a 6.46 ERA in six starts.
Brian Moehler was a pleasant addition to the Astros rotation last year, as he notched an 11-8 record in 26 starts. Moehler has excellent command and pitches to contact, as evidenced by his 82 K / 36 BB in 150 innings of work. The only knock on Moehler is that he gives up too many big innings.
By: Jordan Fleck
MLBcenter.com Houston Astros correspondent