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John Royal's Forecast for the Astros in June: Not So Hot

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The Astros started May on fire, winning 12 of the month’s first 16 games. They finished the month in much the same fashion as they played in April, losing, going 5-7 to end May. And the month of June got off to an awful start, losing 10-1 on Sunday to the Brewers.

With the day off yesterday, I thought I would take a little time to preview the month ahead for the Astros. A month ahead that looks to be one of the hardest months of the season.

The Astros start a three-game series in Pittsburgh tonight. Amazingly, this is the Astros’ first series with their Central Division rivals this season. And as is the usual case for the Pirates, they are in last place. The Pirates are one of those teams the Astros should easily be able to beat, however, as history has shown, the Astros always have trouble with Pittsburgh. And while many people like to chat up the Astros vaunted offensive machine, it should be noted that the Pirates have scored more runs than the Astros have this season. On the plus side, the Pirates’ pitching makes the Astros’ pitching staff look like one full of Cy Young winners.

The Astros come home this weekend for three more games with the Cardinals. The Cardinals are one of the surprises of the season, as this is one of the few teams that was actually supposed to be worse than the ‘Stros. If the pattern continues, the Astros will win Friday’s game before losing on Saturday and Sunday. This series will also offer fans the chance to see two of the players leading the NL MVP race in Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols. Berkman was dominating the stat race with Pujols, but Berkman’s begun to slump a bit, and Pujols has started gaining on him. My MVP at this point is neither of these guys, even though one of my counterparts in St. Louis wrote what I’m sure was a very painful column calling Berkman the MVP. My vote goes to Chipper Jones – his offensive numbers are close to or better than everybody’s, and he plays really good defense. Chase Utley of the Phillies also should be getting some votes.

Following the Cards come the Brewers for three more games. If the season pattern holds, the Astros will sweep the Brewers, but I think the Brewers are getting their act together while the Astros are finally playing the way everyone expected them to play.

The New York Yankees then make their first regular season visit to MMP. The Yankees aren’t the juggernaut that ruled the American League for so long, but I just can’t help thinking that Alex Rodriguez is just dying for a chance to hit at MMP again. The Astros then continue interleague play by making a trip to Baltimore. The Orioles were supposed to be one of baseball’s worst teams this year, but maybe dumping Miguel Tejada was good for the team. While battling with the Yankees for last place, the Orioles have been able to stay close, and are just a tad below the five hundred mark.

The ‘Stros will leave Baltimore for Tampa Bay, and I’m looking forward to this series because it’s going to be fun watching the Rays, the current first place team in the AL East. The Rays, with the second best record in MLB, are a surprise to some, but Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine make one of the best starting rotations in baseball. The team is young. They hustle on the bases, and they’re a superb defensive team. There are also some strong connections to Houston on the Rays. Outfielder Carl Crawford, pitchers Scott Kazmir, Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller are either from the Houston area or played for the Astros. The pitching coach is former Astros pitching coach Jim Hickey. The hitting coach is former Astro and former Astros hitting coach Steve Henderson. And the assistant major league coach is former Astros shortstop Tim Bogar. The Rays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations is former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker. Broadcaster Dewayne Staats first MLB broadcasting job was with the Astros, and Rays pregame reporter Todd Kalas is the son of former Astros (and current Phillies) broadcaster Harry Kalas.

The Astros will finish the month at home, starting with three games against the Texas Rangers and current Sports Illustrated cover boy Josh Hamilton. No matter how bad the Rangers are, they seem to have the Astros’ number, but it should be noted that the Rangers had a better record in May than the Astros did, going 19-10 for the month.

The Boston Red Sox then play a weekend series at MMP. BoSox outfielder Manny Ramirez just clinched the Hall of Fame by hitting his 500th career homer this weekend. If you guys think Lance Berkman has been a consistent player, try this: of the 24 players with 500-plus career homers, the three highest career batting averages belong to Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez. He’s 25th on the career RBI list. Between 1995 and 2006, he never hit less than 26 homers in a season, or more than 45. He had 100-plus RBI eleven times, and 125-plus RBI five times. People may think of him as a goofball, but he’s also a hell of a player.

And the last game of the month will be the first of four home games versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I’m going to do something I normally don’t do, which is predict the Astros record for the month. I say they’ll go 10-16 for the month, which would make their season record 40-43. – John Royal

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