2011 Preview: Houston Astros

We continue our peeks at the other teams within the NL Central with today’s look at the Houston Astros.

Last season Houston finished 76-86, good enough to finish 4th in the NL Central. We’ll start with Justin’s take on the 2011 Astros.

Justin, you’re up!

The Astros main offseason acquisitions center on the middle infield. Clint Barmes was acquired from the Rockies in November for Felipe Paulino to be the starter at shortstop and Bill Hall was signed after being declined by the Red Sox to slide into second base. These signings were done to replace disappointing performances by in-organization options of Jeff Keppinger and Tommy Manzella in 2010.

Also signed was backup catcher Humberto Quintero. Beyond these signings, the Astros remain fairly stagnant from their 76-86 2010 season, with only their starting pitching being the only part that provided any sort of excitement in the form of Brett Myers and the late season acquisition of J.A. Happ from the Phillies for Roy Oswalt.

Player to Watch

Brett Myers, SP

After spending his entire career with the Phillies up to 2009, Myers signed a one-year deal with Houston in the offseason before last season. It turned out that a change of scenery was in order for Myers. He posted career highs in innings pitched, ERA, and wins with Houston and finished with a line of 14-8 with an ERA of 3.14 and 180 Ks. Myers impressed me greatly with an awesome year overall and a great performance against the Reds specifically in September. Myers signed a two year extension with the Astros in August after some speculation that Myers would be traded before the trade deadline.

I look for Myers to team with Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, and Bud Norris to form a sneaky good rotation which should be one of the only strong points for the hapless Astros.

And how does John view the 2011 Astros?

2nd year manager Brad Mills is going to have his hands full this year. The key to the Astros is youth, youth and more youth. With Wandy Rodriguez as their only solid starter and the other 4 spots up for grabs from the remaining 7 pitchers left on the depth chart, 162 games is going to feel like 3 or 4 times that.

Some positive notes for the Astros though. Chris Johnson is going to continue to develop into a tremendous player both offensively and defensively. This kid is going to be fun to watch in the future. If the Astros can hang around against the Reds in a couple of games, look for Bill Hall to make me throw my remote at the television a time or two like he did with the Brewers.

Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee and Michael Bourn all look to have solid years and overall, offense is not going to be the problem. We’re going to see the Astros winning a few games with scores like 12-10, 10-8, etc. The bullpen’s going to get a lot of work and the Astros are going to score runs.

My take…

Brad Mills did a sensational job with this team last season, You could say too good of a job. Or you could say he did it with smoke and mirrors. If Houston is to duplicate another 4th place finish, Mills will have to weave his magic once more. But the Astros do have some nice pieces both offensively and even more pitching-wise.

All you have to do is look in the outfield to find two excellent players in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. But where after that? Carlos Lee in left? Lee was once one of the most feared bats in all of baseball. Maybe Chris Johnson at third? What about Brett Wallace at first? Get the point?

I do like Houston’s starting pitching with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris. It could be as good as any in the division. Stress, could. While I believe this is the Astros strength, the lack of offense will result in the Astros losing many 2-1, 3-2 games. And I don’t believe we’re seeing enough about the Astros closer, Brandon Lyon. No, he’s not the most feared closer in the division, but he’s solid.

And how does Alex feel about Houston in 2011?

The Astros have some nice young players, but 2011 is not the year that they are expecting to compete. They lost Berkman and Roy Oswalt last season, and their replacements did not always play with the type of consistency that would make the Astros a playoff ball club.

Bud Norris will be looked to take another step forward in 2011. If he can combine with J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros could have a nice top half of the rotation for a few years to come. Clint Barmes was a nice offseason signing to replace Tommy Manzella who proved he was not ready to be an everyday shortstop last season.

The Astros front office will turn around the ship, and the Astros will be competing again sooner rather than later, but 2011 will not be their year.
The thing about Houston is that three of us look at the starting staff and believe it can be a very good staff. The middle infield grabbed a lot of attention, too. The deals to bring in Barmes (trade) and Hall (free agent) could prove to be a decent setup. At least until Keppinger returns.