The 2008 season was a complete roller coaster ride for the Houston Astros.
Despite spending much of the season in the cellar of the NL Central and amongst the dregs of the National League, the Astros went on an amazing run towards the end of the regular season, just falling short of a Wild Card playoff spot, and finished up with a record of 86-75.
While the run to finish the 2008 season was nice, it's the type of thing that can't be relied upon for the future, which is why I feel the Astros are going to have a rough 2009.
It all starts with starting pitching, which is one of the Astros' main problems.
Roy Oswalt, one of the most underrated players in all of baseball, heads the staff.
Despite a slow start to 2008, Oswalt finished strong with a 17-10 mark, and a 3.54 ERA.
Oswalt is by far and away the best pitcher on the entire staff. However, after him, it's a drastic step down.
While the rest of the rotation isn't completely decided as of yet with several young players having been given opportunities to earn spots, it's expected to shake out as follows.
Lefthander Wandy Rodriguez is likely to get the nod as the No. 2 starter, assuming the Astros are finished making moves this offseason.
Rodriguez enjoyed a career year in '08, going 9-7 with a 3.54 ERA that matched Oswalt.
However, Rodriguez's home-away splits have made him seem quite shaky.
At Minute Maid Park in '08, a park typically known as a hitter's park, Rodriguez posted an ERA of 2.99, as opposed to his 4.34 mark away from home.
Another lefty, Mike Hampton, returns to the Astros as their only "major" offseason addition, and should assume a spot in the rotation from from the third to fifth spot.
Hampton has missed significant time due to injuries over his past four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, and has basically fallen off the radar because of it.
His last full season was 2004, when he went 13-9 for the Braves with a 4.28 ERA.
It's not a safe bet to say that Hampton will be able to stay healthy for the entire 2009 season, and even if he does, there's no telling how effective he'll be anymore at age 36 coming off of several serious injuries.
The fourth and fifth spots are essentially up for grabs, with several players, including Brian Moehler, Brandon Backe, Felipe Paulino, and Fernando Nieve expected to be in the running.
The righth-handed Moehler was somewhat of a pleasant surprise for the Astros in 2008, going from a spot-starter to a No. 3 guy for much of the season.
While his numbers don't necessarily reflect it (11-8, 4.56), he helped the team with several stellar starts throughout the season.
However, he's 37, and has never really had much success as a regular starting pitcher over the course of his career, so there's no telling what the Astros will be able to get from him in '09.
Former fan-favorite Brandon Backe suffered through his worst full season as a Major-Leaguer in '08, going 9-14 with an ERA of 6.05.
He was third-worst in the league amongst starters in terms of runs given up (114), and he gave up the most home runs— a stunning 36 of them.
He was arguably one of the worst regular starting pitchers in the National League last year, and he seemed to all but eliminate himself for this season's staff.
However, the team decided to bring him back, and he will be amongst the competitors for a final spot in the rotation.
The Houston Astros went from a mediocre to a very respectable, almost playoff-caliber club in '08, and their starting pitching will determine how they fare in '09 as well.
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