Monday, February 4, 2013

2013 Preview: Houston Astros

Houston Astros
 (2012: 55-107, last place NL Central) 
(FC Prediction: Last in AL West)

There is a reason that the Astros moved to the American League this year...it's because they have had no success in the National League.  

Well, that's not it but even changing leagues may not help this squad that's in the midst of another rebuilding year.  Last year couldn't have been any worse for the Astros as they finished dead last in the NL Central.  

First year GM Jeff Luhnow was given the green light to tear the organization down and put his stamp on a faucets of the Astros, from the minor-league on up to the manager.  Essentially, the Astros are taking a step back in hopes of taking major steps forward in the future.  

Will 2013 be the year that they make that first step ahead?  New manager Bo Porter should bring a fire to the club that was simply lacking last season.  While they may be thrown into the fire right away in the revamped and talented AL West (that may be better than the NL Central), this young team will grow up fast, and not losing a hundred games may be a realistic goal.  

Let's see what this squad looks like going into 2013:



PITCHERS


The Astros starting rotation will be anchored by righties Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jordan Lyles.  Harrell had a solid 2012 campaign, winning 11 games with an ERA south of four.  Lyles will enter his official full big league season at the ripe age of 22 and Norris is a serviceable starter.  Phil Humber may not ever throw a perfect game like he did last season with the White Sox but very well may claim a spot in the rotation.  Former ace Erik Bedard will get the chance to compete for a rotation and possibly recapture his magic from earlier in his career -- if he can stay healthy.  

The bullpen will be the biggest question mark and will probably determine the Astros success (or lack thereof).  With closer Wilton Lopez gone to Colorado, RH Jose Veras is the early favorite to close.  The only question is how many opportunities he will have.  

Don't expect to get too familiar with the opening day Astros bullpen, because we're sure that there will be plenty of turnover and change throughout the season as the Astros try to get a grip on young talent.  



LINEUP


Whoa! This actually looks like a major league level lineup.  Pint-size All-Star Jose Altuve (think "Venezuelan David Eckstein") will man second and will bat lead-off to help spark the Houston offense.  If SS Jed Lowrie can stay healthy, he offers a decent bat with sneaky power...and also a key trade piece if things go really bad by midseason.  Carlos Lee is gone, while Astros fans collectively sigh: "Yeah, the year we get to have a DH, NOW Carlos Lee is gone."  

Newly acquired Carlos Pena will provide his perennial power and low average while the Astros try to figure out what a DH does.  Lower in the order could be fun to watch.  Houston has a bunch of young, scrappy players in 1B Brett Wallace, C Jason Castro and OF J.D. Martinez, all of which try to take the next step.  If any or all can have a breakout season to live up to their top prospect status from years past, Houston could be a team that, well, still isn't good but no one wants to play.  Former 1st round pick and rookie Matt Dominguez is penciled in as the Houston starting 3rd baseman.   While he may not be the next coming of Mike Trout, keep an eye on him throughout the season.



BEST CASE SCENARIO


Well, realistically this is not a postseason or even close to a postseason team.  <sarcasm> I'm sure Astros fans will be thrilled that they will get to face Albert Pujols again </sarcasm>.  There will be three other teams will be competing for the AL West crown and all three are leaps and bounds ahead of the Astros.  Throw in a sneaky Seattle Mariners squad and this looks like another last-place finish, just in a different Division.  


However, it's entirely possible that Brett Wallace, Martinez and Castro have breakout years, Dominguez becomes a beast, and the back-end of the bullpen anchors down while the starters somehow weather the storm of hitters in the AL West.  Even if all those good things happen, a .500 season is possible -- not likely - but possible.  Still not a playoff team, but .500 sounds pretty good after back-to-back 100 loss seasons. 



WORST CASE SCENARIO

There's literally no where to go but up.  Here is a short list of things that can happen that would be worst than last year's Astros. 


  • Bo Porter lied about his resume, experience, dead-girlfriend, etc and is having an affair with the ticket sales interns.  He is fired in April.
  • Pitchers and catchers simply don't report.  
  • Entire starting infield collides on a pop-fly, all injured for season. 
  • The retractable roof at Minute Maid gets stuck halfway open during the entire months of July and August in 110 degree heat.  
  • Not to be outdone by the Royals, GM Jeff Ludnow trades the entire AA Corpus Christi Hooks and AAA Oklahoma City RedHawks for James Shields.
  • A hurricane hits in the middle of the 8th inning of a game, tears off the roof and blows Jose Altuve to Galveston Island where he is never seen again. 
  • Owner Jim Crane sells team to Bud Adams who relocates them to Tennessee.  
  •  City votes to change their name back to the Colt .45s, team banned forever from postseason due to a gn control measure by President Obama.
  • A glitch in the Minute Maid Park PA system plays Nickelback after every home run all season.  
  • JJ Watt is invited to throw out the first pitch Opening Day, ends up starting and tosses a three-hit shutout.  


MOST-LIKELY SCENARIO / PROGNOSIS

With literally no where to go but up, a fiery manager and crops of young talent, these Astros should be both painful and fun to watch.  While they enter one of the toughest Division in baseball, expect Bo Porter to have his club ready to play every game.  There will be growing pains along the way but serious baseball fans will also be able to spot glimmers of hope.  Trying not to lose a hundred games should be a realistic goal which we expect the Astros to accomplish.  It may not seem like much but after the disasters of the last few seasons, it is a start.  It will still not be enough to keep them out of the AL West cellar but this is still a rebuilding phase.  Astros fans would do well to take advice from Cubs fans and start paying attention to the moves being made in the draft and minor leagues too to see the entire rebuilding process from the ground up.  That alone should be enough to keep the die-hard Houston baseball fans going to the park and paying attention.  Oh and tickets are $5.  




NON-ROSTER INVITEE TO WATCH

Familiar names will hit the Spring Cactus League as veterans Rick Ankiel and Erik Bedard will get the chance to compete and play.  Both are in their early 30s and have something left to prove and can provide veteran leadership with a young squad and a new manager.  Ankiel will do fine as a back up and spot starter in the outfielder, and Bedard is literally better than any other option as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Expect both to make the team and play.  



TWITTER ACCOUNT TO FOLLOW

Use the joys of digital technology to see what Jordan Lyles has to say about the world of sports.  He tweets like a 20-year-old kid because he is.  It's an account of youth and baseball joy fused together.  Give him a follow at @JordanLyles41