Houston Astros: Are They Screwed in the AL West?

Josh ToyofukuContributor IIIDecember 28, 2011

Houston Astros: Are They Screwed in the AL West?

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    On November 18th, 2011, Major League Baseball approved the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane. The main condition of the sale? Crane agreeing to a move that will see the Astros move from the National League Central to the American League West, joining the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.

    With the 2012 MLB schedule already set at the time of the purchase, the earliest the Astros can move to the AL West is in 2013. But when that time comes, will they be ready to compete in the division?

    Read on to find out.

Houston Astros

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    The Astros finished 2011 with the worst record in Major League Baseball, 56-106.

    After trading their ace, Roy Oswalt, to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, they were left with a very depleted pitching rotation, with only Wandy Rodriguez (pictured) posting double-digit wins. J.A. Happ, a key piece in the Oswalt deal, looked like a different pitcher in Houston—in a bad way. The lack of offense behind him didn't help.

    The Astros' offense was also stripped of any star players when Houston sent center fielder Michael Bourne to the Atlanta Braves and right fielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies at the 2011 trade deadline. Without their top two hitters, Houston's offense lacked much power beyond Carlos Lee's 18 home runs. 

    Houston's defense wasn't much better, as they committed the second-most errors in the National League and they ranked 14th in fielding percentage in the NL as well. The Astros are building for the future and hope that their farm system will provide star players sooner rather than later. 

Con: American League Pitching

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    Historically, American League pitchers have been much more dominant than their National League counterparts. Some of that can be contributed to the fact that they have to deal with nine hitters in the batting order rather than eight and a pitcher.

    But regardless of the reason why, the Astros will face much tougher pitching in the American League, especially in a division that will boast Jered Weaver (pictured), Felix Hernandez, C.J. Wilson and potentially Yu Darvish—and that doesn't even include the usually solid rotation in Oakland or the rest of the AL. 

    In 2011, the Astros finished 26th in MLB in runs scored and 10th in batting average, but those numbers could go down in 2013 unless their top prospects prove to be as good as the organization hopes.

Pro: Designated Hitter

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    As we all know, the American League uses a designated hitter rather than have their pitchers hit.

    This is an immediate plus for the Astros because one of their best young players, Brett Wallace, is a man in search of a position. 

    Wallace has bounced around from minor league system to minor league system because of his lack of position. Currently, the Astros are confident enough that his hitting ability will make up for his suspect defense at first base, where they have decided to try and hide the potential slugger.

    But with a move to the American League, they don't have to worry about the defensive liabilities that Wallace brings when he is on the field—they can just make him their designated hitter. At that point, they just have to make sure Wallace stays in shape.

Cons: Houston Astros Pitching

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    As previously stated, the Astros only had one pitcher to get 10 or more wins—Wandy Rodriguez, who finished the year 11-11 with an ERA of 3.49. Behind him was the 6-11 Bud Norris (pictured), who was the only other starter who finished with an ERA under 4.00. On a better offensive team, both he and Rodriguez could have easily racked up more wins.

    After that, the Astros' rotation looks like a mess, with Brett Myers and J.A. Happ combining for a 13-29 record and a 4.91 ERA. 

    Now that rotation will have to face an extra batter at least three times each game thanks to the use of the designated hitter in the AL. No matter who that DH is, they will undoubtedly be a better hitter than a pitcher. 

Pros: Natural Rivalry

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    By moving the Astros into the AL West, they can now form a natural rivalry with the Texas Rangers.

    However, that will have to wait a few years because the two teams are not playing the same type of baseball. The Rangers are red hot coming off of their second straight American League pennant. On the other hand, the Astros are heading into 2012 trying to not be the worst team in baseball.

    When the Astros do become competitive again, the battle for Texas should be as fun to watch as any other rivalry in baseball.

Final Verdict: Screwed

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    The future doesn't look terribly bright for the Houston Astros, and their move to the AL West in 2013 just made it a bit darker.

    Their 56-106 record in 2011 shows that the players currently slated to take the field for the Astros aren't very good. On top of that, their top prospects are a long ways away from being regarded as some of the top prospects in all of Major League Baseball. 

    Yes, they will have fewer teams to contest with for a playoff spot, but their competition, specifically the Rangers and Angels, will be much stiffer.

    Plus, they are still in the same division as Albert Pujols.