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Houston Astros Predictions / 2010 Season Preview

2010 MLB Predictions/Previews: Houston Astros

Hard to believe, as many of us watch the snow fall outside, that the Boys of Summer are almost back. But it’s true; teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.

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MLB Team Preview – Houston Astros

After a 74-win season, it’s strange to see the Houston Astros go with “status quo” as their offseason gameplan. With no truly significant improvements, can they compete in the jam-packed National League Central?

Before we write Houston off, we can at least say its rotation has potential to thrive. Wandy Rodriguez made the jump from solid pitcher to ace last season; for the Astros to have any shot this year, he must show that he’s no one-year wonder. It’s weird to see Roy Oswalt get the “brittle” label when he’s started 30 or more games for six consecutive seasons. He is, however, showing signs of finally slowing down. Last season’s eight wins and 4.12 ERA were both career worsts.

What about Bud Norris? He went 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in September last season and he’s just 25 years old. Even more encouraging is his healthy 54 strikeouts in 55.2 innings as a rookie. If one of Norris and Brett Myers can provide quality innings, Houston’s rotation should be competitive enough. Myers is a real wild card; he’s been a 200-inning, 200-strikeout starter before but his flyball tendencies make him a home-run dispenser. Last year, he allowed 18 bombs in just 70.2 innings.

Houston’s offense was below average last season but could improve even with the same personnel. Lance Berkman had his worst season since his rookie year in 2009 but could rebound. At age 32, he’s not in the twilight of his career just yet. Same goes for 34-year-old Carlos Lee, fresh off his third straight .300, 100-RBI season. These two still give the Astros respectable pop in the middle of the order. Their defense is another story.

A real lynchpin for the Houston offense in 2010: Hunter Pence. He’s posted two straight 25-homer seasons, he raised his on-base percentage by 28 points last year and will turn 27 – the age when most power hitters break out – on April 13. An ascension to All-Star status from Pence would do wonders for Houston’s lineup.

After Berkman, Lee and Pence, it gets dicey. The Astros are hoping rookie Tommy Manzella can replace departed Miguel Tejada’s production at shortstop. They’re also banking on a healthy year from Kaz Matsui, who set a career high in games played with just 132 last season. The rest of the motley crew includes Phillies castoff Pedro Feliz and speedster Michael Bourne. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row.

Though the Astros brought in Matt Lindstrom and/or Brandon Lyon to close, their bullpen is arguably weaker than it was with Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins (both gone). Relief pitching isn’t bad for Houston per se but it certainly isn’t a strength.

Too much has to go right for the Astros to contend this season. Everyone who broke out has to repeat his success; everyone who struggled has to bounce back; and everyone must stay healthy. It’s unrealistic to expect everything to go that smoothly and the Astros aren’t deep enough to survive when things do go wrong.

They’ll flounder in the Central.

Astros Prediction: Fifth, National League Central

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  1. The Astros named former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills their new manager in hopes he can turn the team around. They have a veteran roster led by Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt but their better days may be behind them. Without a solid pitching rotation they will be pressed to compete with the better teams in the division.