By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
The end of March usually brings at least a little hope to Astros fans -- after all, every baseball team starts the season undefeated -- but hope is in short supply this year.
The team's unofficial rallying cry is "Hey, the rest of the Central Division sucks too!!" which is about as inspiring as a Sanjaya Malakar power ballad.
The Houston Press blog HouStoned at www.houstonpress.com is beefing up its sports coverage with the addition of John W. Royal and Jason Friedman, who've been blogging our local sports agony at www.theclownvisionchronicles.blogspot.com and www.houstonsportsauthority.blogspot.com, respectively.
We asked them to provide some answers for the upcoming season.
Hair Balls: What team will be the most unpleasant surprise to its fans this year?
Royal: Cleveland Indians. They were the smart-guy pick last year, and finished behind Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago. This year the Indians are once again the smart-guy pick, but the pitching's still not as good as Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago. But it's not all bad: The Indians will still finish in front of Kansas City.
Friedman: The Chicago Cubs. Their off-season spending splurge won't pay off, which means we'll be subjected to nonstop whining from the Windy City all summer. I can't wait.
Royal: Other -- the Great Pyramids in Egypt have more lateral range.
Friedman: That's not fair. Craig Biggio is an Astros legend who should not be mocked or ridiculed under any circumstances. Oh, and the answer is C.
HB: When does Carlos Lee first hit the injured-reserve list?
Royal: Can you go on the DL for being overweight? I'll be optimistic and say right after the All-Star break.
Friedman: June 15, when he develops a massive tummy-ache after accidentally eating Adam Everett during a late-night snack attack.
HB: Which is scarier, the Astros' starting rotation or the bullpen?
Royal: Brad Lidge or no Brad Lidge, the starting rotation is scarier. It's going to be Roy Oswalt and pray for four days of rain.
Friedman: This one's easy. It's the bullpen, of course. Did you watch Brad Lidge pitch last year?
HB: Does Lidge still shudder uncontrollably when he sees even a picture of Albert Pujols?
Royal: Brad Lidge shudders when he hears a Cardinals score on the radio.
Friedman: Who's Albert Pujols? On a completely unrelated note, the electroshock treatment I received during November 2005 has really worked wonders.
HB: Will Brad Ausmus be over the Mendoza Line at the end of the year?
Royal: Brad Ausmus will hit for a higher average than Adam Everett. I'm not committing to anything else.
Friedman: Of course. Provided he uses a potent mixture of HGH, Nandralone and Stanozol. And they put the ball on a tee for him when he's facing two strikes.
If, despite all the doom and gloom, you still want to go to an Astros game, there's further great news: It's going to cost you more.
They haven't gone up all that much, but it still may cause some sticker shock when you realize you're plunking down $96 for two seats 30 rows back from first base.
Becky Wallace is executive editor of the publication Team Marketing Report, which covers the business of pro sports. Each year she puts together the Fan Cost Index, which calculates what it costs two adults and two kids to attend a major-league game, including parking, drinks, hot dogs and souvenirs.
The index assumes the fans use season tickets, which cost a lot less than single-game seats. The official results won't be released until April 1, but Wallace says the Astros' "fan cost" for one game is $195.59, a 2.8 percent increase from last year.
That's not as high as in Boston ($313.83) or at Yankee Stadium (about $215), but it's not bargain-basement, either.
"The Astros will definitely be in the top ten," she says.
Look at it this way -- not only are you paying almost 120 bucks less than a Red Sox fan, but you get the privilege of watching Wandy Rodriguez pitch. For a while, anyway.
We've Got Taste
Netflix, the gigantic DVD-renting company, has been adding new features. For the past year or so, customers can -- as with Amazon -- see what's popular in their city.
On March 22, when we first discovered this, the list of "Local Favorites" for Houston included Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which makes sense, as did 12 Angry Men, since a stage version of that had just been in town. But leading the pack was something called Another Gay Movie, which is apparently a Date Movie-type spoof of, we guess, gay movies.
That's the biggest local favorite? Really? "That's not the most-rented movie in Houston, that's the movie that's rented more in Houston than anyplace else in the country over this [weekly] period, in addition to the most popular rentals," says Steve Swasey, director of corporate communications for Netflix.