2005 Team Preview: Houston Astros
by Karl Wright, Special to BasebalEvolution.com
2004 Record: 92-70
2004 Runs Scored: 803
2004 Runs Allowed: 698
Karl’s 2005 Record Prediction: 78-84
Question marks can be found in almost any spot in this batting order, especially with OF Lance Berkman out until at least late April. The first glaring example is found at the lead-off spot. 2B Craig Biggio will be relinquishing that post after a solid decade of holding it down. Adam Everett will be picking up the torch at lead-off after posting career-highs in HR (8) and SB (13) a year ago, but will need to get on base more if he hopes to be an adequate replacement for Biggio. However, the top spot in the order may be the least of Astros fans’ worries in regards to the lineup. 1B Jeff Bagwell’s return to the 3rd spot may be more disconcerting than anything else. His numbers, which have seen a steady decline in the past few years, will have to pick back up in order for this to be of any benefit to the club. Other sources of offensive concern include LF Luke Scott (never played above the AA level), CF Willy Taveras (has speed, but not much power), 3B Morgan Ensberg (will he play as much as Mike Lamb?), and RF Jason Lane (can he provide the pop he was touted to possess?). This means that nearly the entire line-up is a question mark with the exception of Brad Ausmus; we know he will hit around .245 at best. Hitting is obviously no longer the strength of this franchise.
As bad as the Astros’ season could be offensively, they may enjoy one of their best defensive efforts in recent memory. CF Willy Taveras is no Carlos Beltran, but he is an upgrade from Biggio in center. Speaking of Biggio, his move to second will be a major improvement over Jeff Kent’s weak defensive performance of a year ago (ESPN recently quoted a scout as saying that Kent had the "range of a postage stamp"-not a good thing). Of course, the leather master on this club will be SS Adam Everett, who should continue to make strides in his game. This club’s defensive abilities may give the pitching staff a much-needed boost this season.
Did I mention that the 2005 Astros had some question marks? This pitching staff could keep the Astros competitive for longer than anyone expects or they could provide for a quick death somewhere in May or June. The rotation includes RHP Roy Oswalt (20-10, 3.49 ERA)*, RHP Roger Clemens (18-4, 2.98 ERA)*, LHP Andy Pettitte (6-4, 3.90 ERA)*, RHP Brandon Backe (5-3, 4.30 ERA)*, and RHP Brandon Duckworth (1-2, 6.86 ERA)*. The Astros will be depending on staff ace Roy Oswalt to keep their talented bullpen rested for the bottom of the rotation. Expect a little bit of a dropoff from Clemens’ Cy-Young season last year, but also be prepared for a FULL season with a solid number 3 in injury-prone Andy Pettitte. If the top three in the rotation hold up, and Backe continues to improve, this club will be surprising a lot of people in the standings come August. The middle relief is also fairly solid with the likes of RHP Chad Qualls (4-0, 3.55 ERA)* at setup, along with RHP Dan Wheeler (0-0, 2.63 ERA)*, RHP Russ Springer (0-1, 2.63 ERA)*, RHP Chad Harville (3-2, 4.75 ERA)* and LHP John Franco (2-7, 5.28 ERA)*. Of course, the crown jewel of the Astros’ bullpen is closer Brad Lidge (6-5, 1.90 ERA, 29 S)*. His dominance in that role will be key if the ‘stros hope to stay competitive in an unusually even NL Central.
This club is not expected to do much. The word on the street is that this is a 3rd place team at best (4th or 5th if you ask a Cubs fan). The only way they can prove their detractors wrong is if the top 3 or 4 in the rotation pitch very well on a consistent basis for the entire season, Brad Lidge continues to be a top 3 closer, and the lineup is able to play small-ball to perfection. In all likelihood, the Astros will probably have a down year after coming within one game of their first World Series berth, however stranger things have happened. That’s the beauty of having question marks on your squad: the answers may pleasantly surprise you. Remember, most people predicted a two team race in the NL Central last year between the Cubs and Astros. Before winning the NL Central pennant going away and advancing to the 2004 World Series, St. Louis was projected to have a down year and finish in 3rd, maybe even 4th place. Having said that, Houston no longer has an Albert Pujols-caliber player and will probably have to settle for a respectable 3rd place finish.
Karl Wright is an Astros fanatic from Port Arthur, Texas. The 2004 Astros went on an incredible run about two weeks after he had given up on them. Hear more of his sports editorials on his near-future radio blog, The Sports Farm.
*2004 records and stats