Houston Astros 2011 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2011 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Houston Astros. Stay tuned as Diamond Hoggers previews every team division by division until the start of the regular season.

I’ve always really disliked the Houston Astros. I don’t know exactly why this is except for the fact that when I was a kid growing up, they were really a thorn in the side of the Cincinnati Reds. They had a nucleus that seemed like it was going to bring Hell on the other teams in the NL for what would be forever. “The Killer B’s” they were called. Biggio, Bagwell, Bell, and then it just worked out so perfectly when Lance Berkman showed up. He murdered the Reds mediocre pitching staff to the point where the thought of watching him play was just synonymous with a sick feeling in my core of my stomach.

The good news is that the Killer B’s are no more. They got older, and Derek Bell discovered crack rock. Now is the chance for all those teams who took inflicted beatings from the Astros for some many years to extract a little bit of revenge. Gone is another long-time Astro, Roy Oswalt. I never thought I’d see the day.

The cupboard isn’t bare, but in a talented NL Central these guys are going to have to be spoilers at best yet again. Of course, they’ve added a guy who has made a career out of killing the Cincinnati Reds in Billy Hall. They’ve got some decent left-handed pitching so if you’re a lineup whose heart of the order isn’t comfortable with southpaws, you’ll get a series stolen from you.

What’s missing?

Since Biggio, Berkman, and Bagwell exited stage left the Astros have lacked a big-time bopper in the middle of the lineup. They elected to sign Carlos Lee to fill that void, which a lot of people are sour about. His numbers have been in decline as his age has been on the rise. He’s still serviceable but he’s gotten paid. His zest for this great game has begun to disappear. He’s not the type of guy who is hungry for a Championship. He’s a perfect example of why guys are done at age 35. The Astros need to find a younger guy that fits into the plans of this rebuild with some pop who can hit in the middle of the order.

It’s Hunter Pence’s team now

Hunter Pence will be 28 years old this season and people are calling him the face of the franchise. He’s been remarkably consistent the past few seasons. If he can increase his production ever so slightly you’re looking at a guy who will be a .290/30/95 guy with a couple steals and solid play out in right field. At his age, if they see themselves being poor for another few years, you might want to deal this guy to a contender. And I could see Pence getting dealt, absolutely. Look for him to battle it out for an All-Star spot and be a nice source of production yet again in Houston. It would have been scary to see what he could have done with some of the lineups that Houston had in the past.

Spare Parts

There are a few things on this team that I like. Michael Bourn can flat out fly. I’m still kicking myself for not drafting him in fantasy baseball and I wish the Reds would have traded for him last year to fill the role that Freddy Lewis is going to attempt to fill this year. He’s won two gold gloves in a row out in center in Houston and stole 52 bases last season. That’s insane speed. He’s only 27, so expect him to be playing on a contender sometime by June because he has good value at the top of an order.

I like the fact they have two above average left-handed starters in Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ. I think Felipe Paulino, Brett Myers, and Bud Norris are three of the more poundable right-handers in the entire league; but man I like those two lefties. No really, when those three guys are on the mound that I mentioned; your team has a better than decent shot at scoring 8 or 10.

You look up and down this roster and there’s just nothing to get you too excited. Chris Johnson is overshadowed because he has such a common name. Everyone thinks of Titans running back Chris Johnson, not Houston third baseman. He might be able to muster up some nice Ensberg-esque production. A lot of people are high on him because he hit .308 in over a half of season of action.

But I mean other than that; what is there to get excited about? Tommy Manzanella? Brandon Lyon? This team is going to get a lot of people healthy this season. Bottom line.

The Final Verdict

As I was saying, this isn’t the team that a lot of big time guys are going to want to ask out of the lineup against. Especially if one of the three right-handers are pitching. And yes I know Brett Myers’ numbers were decent last season. I still think that this is no better than a 5th place team in the NL Central and I think there is a shot they end up in the cellar.

There’s a reason I put off this preview for so long. This team bores me. In the past when I hated them at least they were packed with stars. They’re going to bore you to death Houston. That’s the problem.