2006 Finish: 82-80, 2nd place in the NL Central, 1.5 games back
Manager: Phil Garner
Comings: LF Carlos Lee, RHP Jason Jennings, RHP Woody Williams
Goings: LHP Andy Petitte, RHP Roger Clemens(?), OF Willy Taveras, RHP Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz
Offense: The Astros added some pop to their lineup by signing LF Carlos Lee to a $100 million contract. Lee will love the short porch in left but I am afraid the Astros may regret having Lee on the books in a couple years when he will be even less of a fielder than he is now. 1B Lance Berkman is a solid, throwback ballplayer. Berkman put up MVP type numbers hitting .315 with 45 HRs and 136 RBIs. Remember when those numbers would have easily won an MVP award? 2B Craig Biggio is entering what could be his final year. His numbers were really down last year but I guess he has earned the right to call it quits when he decides. 3B Morgan Ensberg put up good power numbers but his average was really down. Ensberg platoons a lot with left handed hitting Mike Lamb, who provides a better average but not as much power. C Brad Ausmus and SS Adam Everett are both very good defenders but neither do much with the bat. CF will be handled by Chris Burke, an outstanding young player. I do believe the Astros would be better served with Burke playing second and finding a different option in center. LH Luke Scott and RH Jason Lane will share time in Right. Both had good springs and deserve more at bats. Prospect Hunter Pence had a superb spring and will be waiting in the minors if any of the outfielders falter or get injured. More on him below.
Rotation: How good the rotation is depends on what Clemens decides to do. A healthy Roger Clemens makes this a very deep rotation. Without him, the rotation is top heavy and weak at the back. RHP Roy Oswalt is one of the top pitchers in NL. It this era of parity, Oswalt is a true ace. RHP Woody Williams had an outstanding 06, going 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA in pitcher friendly Petco Park. Williams will turn 41 in August and will be pitching in hitter friendly Minute Maid, I just don’t know how he will hold up. RHP Jason Jennings is a good young pitcher from Colorado. I look forward to see how he will react during a push for the playoffs, something the Astros do every year. Withouth Clemens, the rest of the rotation is thin. The front runners for the final to spots are LHP Wandy Rodriguez and RHP Fernando Nieve. Rodriguez went 9-10 with a 5.64 ERA and Nieve appeared in 40 games, 11 of them starts, going 3-3 with a 4.20 ERA. RHP Brian Moehler and RHP Chris Sampson were both in the mix.
Bullpen: RHP Brad Lidge still doesn’t seem as dominate as he was before Pujols hit that game winning homerun off of him in the playoffs. Lidge had 32 saves and 104 Ks in 75 innings, but he had an ERA over 5 and was really shaky at times. RHP Dan Wheeler has a chance to take over as the closer. He posted an ERA of 2.52 in 75 games in 2006. RHP Chad Qualls is another solid option late in the game. He was 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA in 81 games for the Astros. LHP Trever Miller was very good for the Astros in 2006. In 70 games, Miller posted a 3.02 ERA.
Hunter Pence-OF-Astros second round pick in the 2004 First Year Player Draft. Named the most exciting player in the Double A Texas League in 2006. He hit .283 with 28 HRs and 95 RBIs. Went on to hit .387 with 9 RBIs leading his Corpus Christi team to the championship. Pence then hit .339 in the Arizona Fall League before being sent home as a disciplinary action. Pence has a strong arm as witnessed by his 13 assists last year. Pence will start the year in the minors after hitting .571/.647/1.071 in 28 at bats during spring training.
Analysis: Like a lot of the other National League contenders, I question if the Astros have enough pitching to make it to October. If a healthy Clemens comes back, the Astros should compete for the division title. I really like the outfield and believe Pence will contribute this year. I am a big Lance Berkman fan and feel you can go ahead and write him down for an MVP type season.