Thanks to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Chron, I'm able to bring you the comedy stylings of Houston Astros manager Cecil Cooper. Only problem is, according to Ortiz, Cecil Cooper wasn't joking.
"We should win 90 games this year," Cooper told the press yesterday. The Astros are going to "go under the radar" and surprise everybody, Cooper said. The Astros would have won 90 games last year, but Hurricane Ike had the nerve to disturb the season. "We've got three of the best offensive players (Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, and Miguel Tejada) at their position in baseball." And new catcher Ivan Rodriguez is one of the best catchers in baseball.
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the serio-comedic stylings of Cecil Cooper. And if Cooper actually believes any of this, baseball better start testing for more than steroids.
Ninety games sounds like a good number for the Astros. But I think that number's actually closer to what they'll be losing than what they'll be winning.
The Astros were lucky to win 86 games last year. They outperformed the stats which said they should have finished with an under-.500 record. They had to ride the bat of Ty Wigginton in August to get back into the playoff race. And any team that has to depend on the bat of Ty Wigginton is not a good team. It's a lucky one. And this year, the Astros don't even have Ty Wigginton around.
Wigginton is being replaced by Geoff Blum, and he makes the mediocre Wigginton look like the second coming of Mike Schmidt. And it's nice to see that Cooper still believes that Miguel Tejada is one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball, but he's not even in the top half of best shortstops in the National League. I doubt that any GM (except for maybe Ed Wade) would trade a Jose Reyes, a Jimmy Rollins, a Hanley Ramirez, a J.J. Hardy, a Stephen Drew, a Troy Tulowitzki, or a Rafael Furcal for Tejada. Hell, Cristian Guzman with the Washington Nationals put up comparable numbers to Tejada last season, and it was universally acknowledged throughout baseball several years ago that Guzman was washed up.
So the Astros infield consists of the can't-hit Blum, the washed-up steroid abuser Tejada, injury-prone Kaz Matsui at second, and the streaky offensive force of Lance Berkman at first. Michael Bourn still has not shown that he can hit. Hunter Pence will still continue to impress, and Carlos Lee will continue to hit while walking to any ball hit toward him left.
And I like the Ivan Rodriguez signing. I've even said as such. But he's no longer one of the best catchers in baseball. And like Tejada, he's not even in the top half of catchers in the National League.
And to support his contention, Cooper points to the spring training records of the 1984 Detroit Tigers (11-17), 1999 New York Yankees (14-19), 2000 New York Yankees (13-20), and 2001 New York Yankees (9-20). Are you noticing a bit of a pattern here? Yeah, those teams were all good and loaded with talent. The Yankees and Tigers both had among the best rotations in baseball. They were managed by all-time greats. And there's definitely nobody on the Astros who compares to Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, Jorge Posada...I think you get the idea.
What Cooper doesn't remind people of is that in 2008, San Francisco went 9-23-2 in spring. They were awful and didn't make the playoffs. And Baltimore went 10-17-2. They, too, were awful and didn't make the playoffs. In 2007, Kansas City went 11-18 and Tampa Bay went 10-19. They didn't make the playoffs either. Do you need me to go on? I think we all understand that Cooper's making a bogus point.
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Now there generally is a team that goes under the radar every year. You know, like the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Or the Minnesota Twins for most of this century. Or the Chicago White Sox in 2005. The Florida Marlins in any season in which they won the Series. The Rockies and D-Backs two seasons ago.
And there is actually a team in the National League Central that might actually come in under the radar and surprise everybody. But it's not the Houston Astros. It's the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds have the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year in outfielder Jay Bruce. And the Reds have in Brandon Phillips in second, Joey Votto at first, and Edwin Encarnacion at third the nucleus for one of the best offensive infields in baseball.
The Reds rotation, unlike the Astros, actually has the promise of being a good rotation, featuring five pitchers in Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, and Micah Owings. And if everything comes together for this staff, it could possibly be the best in baseball. Whereas, if everything comes together for the Astros rotation, it might be better than the rotation of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But I want to thank Cecil Cooper. In this depressing time that is my unemployment, he's providing with me some much needed laughs. I'd prefer a good baseball team, but I'll take the laughs. And mark my words: the under the radar team, the Reds; and the Astros will get close to 90, only 90 losses, not wins.