My prediction: Astros will go 79-83
National expectations are so low for the Astros, they’ve been lumped into the same category as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. In other words, few think they’re going to be any good. They are picked last in the NL Central by some, which means behind Pittsburgh, and are picked fifth in the division by most.
With the Astros set to open the 2010 season tonight at Minute Maid Park against the Giants, I can see why the expectations from the experts are so low. They lost 88 games last year and said goodbye to their leading hitter (Miguel Tejada), closer (Jose Valverde) and setup man (LaTroy Hawkins) and replaced them with Pedro Feliz, Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon. Feliz isn’t nealry as good of a hitter as Tejada, and Lindstrom and Lyon aren’t as proven as Valverde.
To be the fair, the Astros also added right-hander Brett Myers and have a better rotation than they did at this time last year when Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz were part of the team. But they’re also relying on a rookie at shortstop and an unproven catcher.
The bottom line is this: if the Astros are going to have any chance to compete, they need to stay healthy, and considering they have an aging core of players, that could be challenging. Lance Berkman is opening the season on the disabled list and Roy Oswalt has already had an injection into his lower back. Berkman has to produce and Oswalt needs to make 30 starts for the club to have a chance.
The second biggest factor are the younger players continuing to progress. I’m throwing Wandy Rodriguez in the young crowd because he had a breakout year last year, but he and Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence can’t afford to take a step back.
What is impossible to measure is the difference Brad Mills will make. The players completely bought into his system and are going to play hard for him, which wasn’t the case with Cecil Cooper last year. Plus, Mills can’t be a worse on-field tactician than his predecessor, so he’s going to make a positive difference in the standings in a division that includes experienced managers in Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella.
At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to talent and health. This is not a bad team when it’s healthy, certainly not a team that will compete with Washington and Pittsburgh for the worst record in the NL. But it’s hard to convince me at this point the health of the Astros won’t be an issue.
Thus, I’m picking the Astros to go 79-83 and finish in the middle of the pack in the NL Central. That’s a more optimistic prediction than most, but still well short of contending for the playoffs. I would love to hear your prediction.