Explanation of ratings system and other team previews here
Overall – 74 points (17th MLB, 10th NL)
Starting Rotation – 26 points (21st MLB, 13th NL)
Line-Up – 34 points (11th MLB, 6th NL)
Bench/Bullpen/Defense – 14 points (T-18th MLB, T-11th NL)
Offseason Additions – Miguel Tejada, Micheal Bourn, Doug Brocail, Kaz Matsui, Jose Valverde, Geoff Geary
Offseason Subtractions – Craig Biggio, Chris Burke, Adam Everett, Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Luke Scott
Biggest Strength– Offense
The Astros line-up is solid from top-to-bottom. Leading off, they have possibly the fastest man in baseball in Michael Bourn (18 steals in just 45 times on base last year. If Jose Reyes stole at this rate in 2007, he would have had 102 steals. Not saying Bourn will steal 100 in ’08. Just saying he’s fast). After that, newly acquired and potentially rejuvenated Kaz Matsui will bat second. These guys will be getting on base for big bats Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and the next-in-line to lie to congress, Miguel Tejada. If they can’t get Bourn and Matsui in, super-sophomore Hunter Pence (.322 BA, 17 HR, 69 RBI, 11 SB in ’07) probably will. Even the 7 and 8 spots won’t give pitchers a rest with Ty Wigginton (22 HR) and big-time catching prospect J.R. Towles (pictured).
Biggest Weakness– Everyone but Roy Oswalt
As good as the Houston offense is, that’s how bad their rotation is. They have a true ace in Roy Oswalt at the top, but after that they have young unproven pitchers. Their 2nd starter is Wandy Rodriguez, who was decent last year, but should really be a 4th or 5th starter. After that, who knows. Is Woody Williams still alive? Can Brandon Backe ever return from injury? Can Chris Sampson or Felipe Paulino step-up? Too many questions, and you never get all the right ones during a baseball season.
Key Player in ’08– Michael Bourn
I mentioned Michael Bourn’s speed above, but I didn’t mention the fact that he is really not all that great a hitter. He hit .277 but only had 7 extra-base hits in 119 ABs. But IF, IF Bourn can get some walks, smack some singles here and there, and hit about .280, he is going to score a TON of runs. I think if he can set the table for this talented line-up, their offense might be able to overcome their starting pitching.
Player to Keep an Eye On– Hunter Pence
One of my favorite quotes from last season came from a slightly perplexed scout talking about Hunter Pence. “He has a hitch in his swing, but he can hit, he doesn’t throw properly, but he can throw. He doesn’t run right, but he can run. I love him.” Houston fans love him too. Pence is a five tool talent who does it all a little differently than most, but does it really well. It will be interesting to see if he can play at as high a level as he played last year.
Outlook/Prediction– 3rd Place, NL Central. They have the offense of a contender and a solid back-end of the bullpen with Doug Brocail and Jose Valverde, but I just don’t see this pitching staff taking them to the playoffs. Also, even though Tejada reportedly played well in the Caribbean Series, I’m not convinced he won’t start the post-PED break down this season. And even if they do get close, their new GM Ed Wade isn’t exactly known for making big deals at the deadline.