I’ll start this off by predicting what I feel the day-to-day line-up and pitching rotation will be. Without knowing the absolute 25-man roster, I’ll have to make some assumptions but I think they are pretty safe ones:
Batting Order and Positions:
CF – Michael Bourn
2B – Bill Hall
RF – Hunter Pence
LF – Carlos Lee
3B – Chris Johnson
1B – Brett Wallace
SS – Clint Barmes
C – Jason Castro
The make-up of the bullpen and bench are total guesses as most of that will shake out in Spring Training as guys get innings. Jeff Keppinger will start the season on the Disabled List, thus he’s not part of the above list and Matt Downs takes his place on the roster; which easily could be Brian Bogusevic or Jason Bourgeois. I really would like to see Jason Michaels off this team and both Bogusevic and Bourgeois be given the bench and defensive replacement OF slots, but I don’t see that happening. Brad Mills says he wants two lefties in the bullpen, so that’s why Rowland-Smith and Wright both make the 25-man roster out of camp.
I was a bit unsure how the batting order would shape up, and even this rendition may not reflect opening day, but I think it’ll be close to what I have predicted. Now for a break down of each position player:
Michael Bourn – Alright All-Star, now show us you can be a highly regarded lead-off man. I need to see walks, bunt hits, and a high OBP. I want to see lots of stolen bases and extra bases taken. I’m afraid it’s going to be more of the same with Michael’s hitting, just not enough pop to be a viable threat at the top of the order. The defense is amazing and that makes the case for him being a MLB starter but it would be nice to see less “oh that was SO close at first” outs and more action on the basepaths.
Bill Hall – I really don’t know what to expect here, other than probably an “average” Bill Hall season. He won’t be up against the tough pitching he had in the AL East last year, but he’ll also be another year older. Hopefully he provides a little pop in the line-up and is able to get on base enough for the offense behind him to do some damage.
Hunter Pence – After a huge win in arbitration, it’s time for Pence to break out even more this year. As the team MVP last year (who else was it going to be, the peanut vendor?) Pence showed maturity and the skills that helped shoot his way up the Astros minor league system and into the majors. With Carlos Lee hitting behind him in the order, he may not see many pitches and could actually predicate switching him and Lee in the line up if Pence has got a hot bat early. Hunter will need to lead the offense again this year.
Carlos Lee – Oh Carlos, where do I start with you, you round mound of diminishing skills. Your contract is an anchor, holding down the likes of Bogusevic from being able to showcase his skills. Your belly is an anchor holding down you. Defensive liability in the OF or at 1B, you are a DH stuck in the National League. No one will trade for you, as you’re not worth whatever money is left on your contract. You reportedly showed up in better shape this spring, but I’ll wait until a few games have passed to see if that makes a difference. Maybe run out a grounder or two this season? Please?!?!?!?! I know it’s hard to get that much mass moving in one direction, but I’ve been told there’s some muscle in there somewhere. All kidding aside, I predict this will be Lee’s worse season of his career. The K-rate is going to skyrocket, and he’ll plummet in the batting order, maybe as low as 7th. He’ll have the occasional pop, but I just don’t see a return to vintage Carlos Lee numbers no matter what the Chronicle writers say. I hope I’m wrong.
Chris Johnson – It is put up or shut up time, kid. Stay healthy this year and keep swinging. Make teams give Carlos a pitch to hit by providing some protection in the five slot. Don’t be the next Morgan Ensberg, please. We need Chris to be a solid 3B and avoid any type of platoon situation. I was a bit surprised he didn’t participate in Winter ball, as I think getting to see additional live pitching would do him well after last season was shortened a bit by injuries. I’ve got a lot of hope in Chris, I want to see him do well and keep smashing the ball.
Brett Wallace – Here is the biggest enigma in the Astros line-up. He could be good enough to be in the clean-up slot, or he could challenge the Mendoza line. We just don’t know what we’re going to get this year, but he will have to really screw up in Spring Training to not get handed the starting 1B job. I was amazed that we got him in the 3-way Berkman trade (his was a separate deal after the Berkman trade, but it basically should have been reported as a three-teamer) as I was actually aware of him for some reason, I think because of how highly touted he was when drafted. If he pans out and has a good season, it will give me hope for the next 5 years or so. If he ends up with huge holes in his swing, then we’re doomed. But in the end, all we gave up for him was an aged Lance Berkman who went on to only frustrate Yankees fans as much as he did Astros fans last year. So I’ll just hope for good things and try not to be surprised if they don’t happen.
Clint Barmes – Welcome to the Astros, Clint. Here’s the SS job on a silver platter. You can’t be worse than Tommy Manzella. That’s my only expectation.
Jason Castro – EVERYONE I’ve read is predicting a big year for this young prospect. I’m banking on the same. He’s got the tools, it’s just a matter of whether he’s able to put it all together and start hitting. He struggled with the bat after his call up last year, and he’ll continue to split time with Humberto Quintero, but I think the veteran leadership will provide Castro with some guidance this year as the kid takes on more and more of the catching duties; as long as the bat start producing.
The Pitching Staff
I’m not going to go into each pitcher in details, rather I’ll give my brief expectations of the staff as a whole. I don’t see a superstar on this staff or even one “in-the-making” in our minor league system. These are all solid guys who will give you solid innings and keep you in the game, but none of them are going to be dominant, overpowering or WHIP leaders. I expect a lot of base runners, a slightly higher than league average ERA and slightly lower than average strikeout numbers. Wandy’s curveball is no longer confusing hitters, Brett Myers is not going to have the same success as last year, and Bud Norris is entering Wade Miller territory (lots of potential, but just can’t put it together). J.A. Happ is a big question mark to me, just don’t know him well enough and I’m hoping he’s the surprise bright spot on the staff this year. As far as the bullpen, however it’s eventually arranged I am not too worried about it. They’ll be average. Not great, not lousy, but average.
This is going to be an interesting year. I don’t think they have enough to match last year’s record. I think it will be significantly worse, as I believe once again that the offense will struggle and the pitching staff will not be as successful. I don’t predict 100 loses though, so that’s a plus. This isn’t a team built to win, it’s a team built to facilitate the sale of the team and win what they can in the interim. So, here’s how I see the division breaking down:
- Reds – 95-67 – They won the division last year, and I don’t see them getting worse this year. Bruce, Votto and the gang will scrape by with it again.
- Cardinals – 92-70 – The loss of Wainwright keeps them from the division.
- Brewers - 85-77 – Greinke isn’t enough to push them over the top.
- Cubs – 79-83 - Alas, they’ll end up with a better record than the Astros, but still far from greatness.
- Astros – 69-93 – We won’t make 70 wins. I predict some trades by the deadline to trade away one of the following players: Myers, Wandy, Lee or Hall.
- Pirates – 60-102 – Seriously Pirates fans, your ownership is just dumb. How can a team go THIS long with being totally inept? Heck, even the Cubs have made the playoffs in the past decade. Losing Bonds was a major blow, but with all the drafts between then and now, how is it that you can’t make a single pick work out? Inept and totally lacking a decent talent evaluator. Looks like another few years in the basement.
There you go everyone, that’s my take on the 2011 Astros. Let’s hope my predictions are wrong and that we contend for the Central Division crown! Heck, if we can finish in 4th place I’d be happy!