Game Time: Astros' Quest For More Than 77.5 Wins Begins

It's only March 3. Hunter Pence hasn't swung at a meaningful slider in the dirt yet, Felipe Paulino hasn't given up nine earned runs in four innings yet, Carlos Lee has yet to get winded walking to first base on a double-play grounder. In other words, we're still in the honeymoon phase of the Brad Mills Era. It will end soon enough. It always does, it's just a matter of how long it will last.

Las Vegas has set the number for "Total Astros Wins" in 2010 at 77.5. After having to sweat out the Great Journey to 73.5 wins in 2009, with the over BARELY getting there after a 4-16 run to end the season, I think I'll take a pass on wagering anything on our hometown nine this season. It doesn't mean I won't be rooting for them just as hard (ok...almost as hard), and it doesn't mean I won't be going to most of the games (although full disclosure here -- I live a five-minute walk from the park). It just means I don't trust this group enough to risk my hard-earned greenery on them.

Today at spring training, the final intrasquad game takes place (insert juvenile "playing with themselves" joke here), and tomorrow they actually take the field against dudes in different uniforms. With special thanks to the media who have been sentenced to Kissimmee for six weeks, as best as I can tell, these appear to be the storylines to follow early in spring training (with "good news" and "bad news" for each one):

1. Lance Berkman will miss the first spring training game, and maybe Friday, with a contusion to his left knee.
Good news:
The injury does not appear at this point to be serious, and Puma plans to take the field at some point in the very near future.
Bad news: Puma appeared to sustain the contusion while running the bases, which last I checked was a somewhat vital part of baseball and something he will be asked to do fairly frequently this season, one would hope.

2. Brandon Lyon threw from a mound for a second consecutive day coming off his shoulder injury.
Good news:
After having a cyst drained on his throwing shoulder, it appears Lyon is working his way back toward a full recovery.
Bad news: There's something ominous about your "splashy" signing finding out about a cyst on his throwing shoulder after you've signed him to a three-year deal. Oh by the way, I crunched the numbers -- Brandon Lyon is making as much as Jeff Fulchino, Felipe Paulino, Wesley Wright, Alberto Arias, Matt Linstrom, and Tim Byrdak combined. So...yeah, this Lyon thing better work.

3. Doug Brocail is no longer with the Astros.
Good news:
The number of Astros players who have had an angioplasty is now at zero, which is one measurement of whether or not the club is going with "band-aid veteran, short-term" signings. Also, most World Series winners have exactly zero former angioplasty patients. Look it up. So...yeah....progress.
Bad news: With the departure of Brocail, the odds of the Astros winning a bench-clearing brawl just decreased from -150 to +120.

4. Milo Hamilton visited the ball club yesterday.
Good news:
Everybody got an autographed Milo Hamilton card...even though nearly everyone already had several hundred of them.
Bad news: Pedro Feliz's new nickname, as dubbed by Milo, is now "FEELIE," which makes him sound like a registered sex offender.

5. Carlos Lee made it into camp on time!
Good news:
Restaurants throughout South Florida breathe a sigh of relief as even just a few days of "no Carlos" can send them scrambling to re-adjust the budget numbers for revenue and necessary head count.
Bad news: It's really happening, the first of three years of Carlos Lee at $18.5 million. The clock has started ticking. Good God Almighty.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast