2009 HOUSTON ASTROS PREVIEW
The Astros had a fairly successful 2008 season, finishing with an 86-75 record, which was good enough for a 3 rd place finish in the tough National League Central. However, the Astros still fell short of the postseason and will look to compete for a return this year.
Things look pretty solid for Houston this year, returning most of last year’s team. They also bolstered their pitching depth by resigning Mike Hampton, who has barely pitched the past three years thanks to injuries. Houston definitely has the potential to compete for a playoff berth but can they get past their division rivals?
The Astros have a very good starting rotation. Diminutive Roy Oswalt (17-10, 3.54 ERA, 32 starts, 208 IP) is the team’s ace and should again provide excellent pitching. Wandy Rodriguez (9-7, 3.54 ERA, 25 starts) broke out to have a very good season in 2008 and should again be solid this fall. The third spot in the rotation belongs to Brandon Backe (9-14, 6.05 ERA, 31 starts), who was absolutely shelled down the stretch last season. Expect Backe to rebound and have a much better season this year. The 4 th rotation slot will belong to Hampton (3-4, 4.85 ERA, 13 starts), who didn’t pitch a single inning in 2006 or 2007. His health will be a constant concern all season. Brian Moehler (1108, 4.56 ERA, 26 starts) will fill the 5 th spot in the rotation and should provide consistency for the Astros. Former Giant Russ Ortiz will also be an option as he comes back from an injury which cost him all of 2008. Houston has a very good rotation which will keep the Astros in the hunt all season.
Closer Jose Valverde (3.38 ERA, 44 SV in 51 SVO, 83 K in 74 Gm) is a proven 9 th inning man who will be a rock for the Astros. Playing in a hitter’s park makes the bullpen a constant concern but the group in front of Valverde is a pretty solid unit, featuring Geoff Geary (2.53 ERA), setup man LaTroy Hawkins (3.92 ERA), Tim Brydak (3.90 ERA) and Doug Brocail (3.93 ERA). Expect the Astros be very solid in relief this year.
Houston has a pretty solid infield. First baseman Lance Berkman (.312, 29 HR, 106 RBI, .420 OBP, 18 SB) is a dangerous switch hitter who will be a rock in the lineup. Second baseman Kaz Matsui (.293, 6 HR, 33 RBI, .354 OBP, 20 SB) is very good defensively and will score plenty of runs. Shortstop Miguel Tejada (.283, 13 HR, 66 RBI, .314 OBP) should rebound after finally putting the congressional steroid investigation behind him this offseason. Expect Tejada to have a big year. The third base position will be covered by Geoff Blum (.240, 14 HR, 53 RBI, .287 OBP) and new acquisition Aaron Boone (.241, 6 HR, 28 RBI, .299 OBP). Neither is a major threat and the Astros could be looking for an upgrade this summer. Catcher is similarly muddled. Humberto Quintero (.226, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .270 OBP in 59 Gm), JR Towles (.137, 4 HR, 16 RBI, .250 OBP in 26 Gm) and Toby Hall (.260, 2 HR, 7 RBI, .304 OBP in 41 Gm) will compete for playing time but the most that can realistically be expected is solid defense and adequate offense. Despite the issues at catcher and third base, the Astros should still have a productive infield.
The Houston outfield is quite good. Leftfielder Carlos Lee (.314, 28 HR, 100 RBI, .368 OBP) is one of the best power hitters in baseball and should again be a threat every time he steps to the plate. Rightfielder Hunter Pence (.269, 25 HR, 83 RBI, .318 OBP) is also a power threat and should improve this season after having a very solid year in 2008. Centerfielder Michael Bourn (.229, 5 HR, 29 RBI, .288 OBP, 41 SB) struggled in his sophomore campaign but could be very effective if he can make more consistent contact. His speed makes him an excellent defender and he is an ideal leadoff hitter if he can get on base more often. If not, expect veteran Darin Erstad (.276, 4 HR, 31 RBI, .309 OBP) to get a lot of playing time in center. Regardless of who plays in center field, this is a solid outfield.
The Astros’ strength this year will be their pitching staff. In a hitter’s ballpark with a miniscule 315 foot left field foul line and a 430 foot centerfield with a hill and a flagpole in fair play, having such a good staff is a huge advantage. Furthermore, the Astros have a pretty potent lineup which has the potential to score a lot of runs.
Despite the strength of their team, the Astros play in a very tough division. They also have a couple of holes to fill, especially at catcher and third base. It will be tough for the Astros to catch up with the Cubs and the Cardinals but they should definitely compete all year. Expect Houston to win between 85-90 games but fall short of a playoff berth with a 3 rd place finish in the National League Central.
By Matt Baxendell
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