Astros Spring Training Starts Friday

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Pitchers and catchers report to Houston Astros spring training on Friday, which means that come Saturday, the Astros will be out of contention. And the Chron is getting everybody ready for the season to come with a couple of articles in yesterday's paper on the status of the team and its roster.

Jose de Jesus Ortiz provides a seemingly upbeat, yet still rather realistic outlook of the team. But Richard Justice has the team contending for a playoff spot. Of course, to get to that contention, Justice has to play the "if this then that" game.

Like if Mike Hampton starts 30 games, or if rookie Bud Norris - who's not even on the team - wins ten games, or if Kaz Matsui stays healthy - that's probably the biggest "if this" of them all - or if Michael Bourn shows progress or if the third base platoon of Aaron Boone/Geoff Blum produce. You get the idea.

As it stands, the Astros are looking at a starting rotation of Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Brandon Backe. That's one legit ace in Oswalt and a bunch of four and five starters. The catcher is Humberto Quintero who will probably have everyone longing for Brad Ausmus by the All-Star break. And let's not even get started on Miguel Tejada, who is not only two years older than he was when he came to spring training last year, is also facing a season of federal investigation as to whether he lied to Congress.

Justice sees positives in that the Astros have four of the best players in baseball at their respective positions. Yes, Roy Oswalt is one of the best in baseball at his position. And while Justice likes Carlos Lee, calling him one of the best left fielders in baseball is really a stretch. For Lee to be one of the best at his position in left field, he's going to have to start moving around a bit out there. Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, and Bobby Abreu - who are all currently unsigned free agents - are all superior fielders to Lee, and they all suck in the field. Lance Berkman might be among the best at his position, but Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Derrick Lee, and Ryan Howard are as good. And while Jose Valverde might be a tough bastard, I'm not convinced he's one of the best closers in baseball.

And Justice likes the Astros chances because the competition in the Central division stinks. Except for the fact the Chicago Cubs have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. And the Cincinnati Reds, for all of their problems, do have a better starting rotation than the Astros. And the Cubs and Brewers can outscore the Astros. And Tony LaRussa has proven that he can do more with less talent than Cecil Cooper can do with more talent.

But hey, the Astros should still be better than the Pittsburgh Pirates, so that should give us all a little something to look forward to this year.

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