Are you psyched? I'm psyched, so I hope you're psyched. Of course, I'm psyched because I love baseball, not because I think the Astros are any good. And after I take a look at the team, I don't think you'll be psyched about this team, either.
But first...here is the winner (and top four runner-ups) of the Astros Marketing Slogan contest for this season.
5. Astros Baseball: Better than the Pirates since 1993 - Ben Burnham. 4. Astros Baseball: Really? - Crush78. 3. Astros Baseball: Damn, I miss the Comets! - UrbnLgnd. 2. Astros Baseball: Providing a new and improved meaning to the word "suck" - Sancho.
And our winner...
1. Astros Baseball: Why Bother? - Byrd.
Now if you read Jose de Jesus Ortiz's online baseball review yesterday, you were probably shocked to discover that he thought the Astros would finish in second place in the NL Central. Of course, I too think they will finish in second place, that is, if you count second place as being second from the bottom.
This Astros team isn't very good. It's even worse than last year's team.
Sports Illustrated quotes a NL scout as saying that the Astros starting rotation "is 1-5-5-5-6." That equates to a number one starter, three number five starters, and a spot starter/long reliever. I think that's a bit harsh. I think it's a 1-4-4-5-6 rotation. But still, that's not much better.
Roy Oswalt is still around to anchor the staff. But after that, you have Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz, both who, early in this century, were quality starters, but who have both missed most of the past several seasons because of serious arm injuries. Then there's Wandy Rodriguez who the Astros brass always tout as the next big thing if he can get his act together. But here's the thing. If Wandy hasn't gotten his act together, why is it supposed to happen this year? And then there's Brian Moehler, who put together some quality starts last season, but whose entire career is defined by the words "spot starter" and "long relief." In short, this is not a good rotation.
The Astros made no changes to the bullpen. The bullpen was solid last year, and continuously bailed out the team when Brandon Backe, Randy Wolf, and Wandy Rodriguez were unable to go more than five innings. But Doug Brocail is old, and he broke down at the end of last season. LaTroy Hawkins was surprisingly good after arriving last season, but like Moehler, he's bounced from team to team over his career because he can't string good seasons together. And I look at Jose Valverde and I just see another Brad Lidge break down just waiting to happen.
The infield is worse than last season's thanks to management letting Mark Loretta depart. Lance Berkman will once again provide quality hitting and underrated defense at first base. Kaz Matsui is okay at second, and he can provide some offense, but the guy makes T-Mac look like Cal Ripken. Miguel Tejada has spent his time in Houston being outed as a liar on a variety of issues, which wouldn't be so bad, expect that he stinks. And while I was never a huge Ty Wigginton fan, the third base situation is a lot worse because a Geoff Blum/Jeff Keppinger tandem at third just says quiet desperation. Mark Loretta spent lots of time at second, third, and short last year, which was an upgrade everywhere because he was a superior player to most of the guys playing in front of him. Unfortunately, the Astros decided to let Loretta depart for the Los Angeles Dodgers instead.
The outfield contains the sloth that is Carlos Lee in left field - the guy generally takes about 20 minutes to get to any ball hit down the left field line, and I think the only time he runs for anything is to beat Berkman to the post-game buffet. Michael Bourn can cover lots of ground in center (and most of Lee's ground in left), but he has yet to show that he can hit, or bunt, or walk, or about anything else. Hunter Pence had a bit of a sophomore slump, but he's perhaps the team's best all-around player. Darin Erstad is back to serve as Berkman's back-up and to handle Carlos Lee's defensive duties when the game is close, and then there's career non-entity Jason Michaels who gets a roster spot because Ed Wade likes him.
The only position the Astros have seriously upgraded over last season's squad is catcher, where future Hall of Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez is taking over for Brad Aumus, Humberto Quintero, and J.R. Towles. Rodriguez is no longer the great catcher that he once was, but even a diminished Rodriguez is much better than just about anyone who has ever caught for the Astros.
Cecil Cooper is back as manager. And he sure didn't distinguish himself last season - not that he ever distinguished himself when he served as Phil Garner's bench coach. So, like last season, the Astros will win because they get lucky, not due to any special managing decisions.
Now it's time for me to go on the record. The Astros finish in fifth place with a record of 72-90. Just be thankful the Pittsburgh Pirates are around to keep the Astros from finishing last.