Play Ball: John Royal’s Predictions for the Houston Astros

It’s that time of year again. It’s baseball season. And come Monday, the Astros will be starting up for real. Steve Campbell and Richard Justice of the Chron tell me I should be optimistic. And that I should look on the bright side because there are plenty of positives.

Well, maybe they’re right. I, for one, am positive about one thing regarding this year’s Astros. This team is going to suck. Capital S, capital U, capital C, capital K suck. SUCK.

And as bad as you thought the Astros were last season, well, it’s going to be even worse this season.

For the past several years, the Astros have based their season plans on the “if” factor. If Roger Clemens comes back. If Andy Pettitte comes back. If Morgan Ensberg hits. If Jason Lane hits. If Lance Berkman is in shape. If Adam Everett hits his weight. If Brad Lidge’s confidence isn’t shot.

They’ve got the same plan this season. The “if” plan.

The “if” plan for this year is as follows:

If Miguel Tejada doesn’t go to jail. And if Kaz Matsui stays healthy. And if Kaz Matsui can hit somewhere outside of Denver. If Michael Bourn can perform as a regular. If Wandy Rodriguez can pitch with consistency. If Brandon Backe can come back from Tommy John surgery. If Jose Valverde wasn’t a one-year wonder. If Ty Wigginton hits for a decent average while making some basic plays at third base. If Lance Berkman is in shape. If Hunter Pence is more than just a rookie wonder. If J.R. Towles continues to hit and can handle the pitching staff. If somebody can step up as the number four starter. If somebody can step as the number five starter. If Carlos Lee actually hustles from time to time. If Cecil Cooper can actually manage.

If. If. If. If.

As we learned last year, teams with this many ifs don’t win.

The Astros do have one of the game’s best pitchers in Roy Oswalt. But he can’t carry this awful pitching staff on his own. Hunter Pence showed promise last season – promise that he can be one of the best players in baseball. J.R. Towles shows great promise behind the plate – is it possible he could be the great hitting catcher the Astros have wanted for their entire existence? And anyone who’s been paying attention this spring knows that Michael Bourn has been showing flashes of being a very good centerfielder.

But I just don’t believe this team will come close to competing for the playoffs. I don’t care what Justice says.

I know the minds-that-be don’t think the NL Central is any good. But they thought this last year. And nothing has changed. The Astros, if anything, have gotten worse this offseason, not better. The Reds have gotten better. The Cubs are still good. The Brewers should learn from last year. And the Pirates have a decent pitching staff.

I know the Astros are supposed to score runs, but I don’t think scoring runs matters when the pitching staff can’t stop the other team from scoring. So it doesn’t matter if the team scores ten runs but loses 12-10. Not only are those games losses, but there’s nothing more boring than four-hour baseball games with each team changing pitchers five times. But that is what is going to be happening with the Astros this year.

Now this all looks like criticism, but when compared to the good folks at Sports Illustrated, I'm being positive in my take on the Astros. They like the Matsui signing even less than I do, and they think Oswalt and Tejada are washed up (I agree about Tejada and I disagree about Oswalt). And SI is positive about one thing when it comes to the Astros: They are going to win less than 75 games. And they are more positive than me, because I think the Astros will finish lower in the standings than they do.

I’m setting my over/under on Astros victories at the same number I did last year – 75 wins. And I’m taking the under. I’m just thankful the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be sucking just as bad this year.

Astros Baseball: Something To Before The Hurricane Comes Inland. – John Royal

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