It is pretty clear that the Astros overachieved in 2008. The 'Stros had a major second half push that upped their record to 86-75. They had a pythagorean record of 77-84. Houston might need a minor miracle to approach 86 wins in 2009. It might help to actually look at the actual differences in the roster for 2009 though.
The main reason for a team overachieving significantly is the bullpen. If you have a team that is abnormally good at locking down the back 3 innings you have the recipe for skewing the pythagorean record. The 'Stros certainly meet that criteria. The same bullpen is returning folks, but this year they should have a full year of LaTroy Hawkins who was lights out after coming over from the Yankees.
The worst season from a reliever was from Wesley Wright, but he did strike out a batter an inning. Plus he's young so the club would have to be high to send him down at this point. Another name to watch is Jose Capellan. The once uber-prospect is in camp on a NRI. He's been good this spring and could help at some point. Chad Paronto is having a solid spring as well.
Grade: B+ You can't expect Geoff Geary to drop a sub-3 era again, or for Hawkins to be that unhittable. Plus Brocail is old. They did enough last year to be on the brink of an A though. This is the clubs strength by far.
Also known as: who, the guys behind Oswalt, and the revolving door. You know Roy Oswalt is going to give you 14-20 wins a season. The only year he didn't was when he won 10 in 2003 in an injury shortened year. In 2008 Wandy Rodriguez emerged as a solid starter. At 29 though the upside isn't very high. The problem with the rotation is the back 3. What can you expect from Mike Hampton, Brandon Backe, and Brian Moehler at this point? The 'Stros will have to be eccstatic if they get 35 wins out of the back 3.
The only viable NRI starting candidate is Russ Ortiz. And really, is he that viable? The Astros sorely lack depth at any spot. That's a result of poor drafting, foolish trades, and giving away draft picks in unwise free agent signings. We'll get into that at a later date, but for now let's just look at the results. They need pitching depth. Where does that come from? Who knows?
Grade: B Oswalt can cure a lot of ills. If he's injured the season is probably over. I'd be entertained to see Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Brian Moehler in the same rotation at some point. That probably plays if its 2003, but alas it's 2009.
The lineup, defense, and final prediction will hit bookshelves in a few days.
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Written by Josh Lile