Houston Astros: National League Central Sleeper?

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Houston Astros:  National League Central Sleeper?

The Houston Astros are one of the most difficult teams to try to understand. A year ago, they finished third in a very competitive National League Central. 

Where they will finish this year is anyone's guess.  They have one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in Roy Oswalt, and one of the best hitters in Lance Berkman. Here's my best guess as to where the Astros might end up.

5) Houston Astros 79-83

Key Additions

Mike Hampton, Jason Michaels

Key Departures

Randy Wolf, Ty Wiggington, Mark Loretta, and Brad Ausmus

Pitching

There's no question who the ace of the Astros is.  Roy Oswalt is one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball.  He will anchor this staff, with Wandy Rodriguez as their number two.  Rodriguez has good stuff, but has a career ERA of 4.79.  On most teams, Rodriguez would be a five.

Brandon Backe is set to be the Astros number-three starter.  He appears to be healthy, but his 6.05 ERA was awful.  At least he can hit.  Backe hit .277, with two home runs last year. 

The number four and five starters appear to be Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler.  Hampton has started a total of 13 games over the past three years.  To be honest, I don't know where the Astros think they're going with Hampton. 

The 38-year-old Brian Moehler is coming off his best year since 2000.  The Astros are hoping they can get another decent year out of Moehler, who was 11-8 in 2008. 

The Astros have a better than average bullpen.  Latroy Hawkins, Geoff Geary, and Doug Brocail will setup Jose Valverde.  Valverde, who will likely be traded by July 31, had 44 saves in 2008. 

Offense

Like the majority of the National League Central, the Houston Astros can hit.  The biggest question mark is, who are their top-two spots in their batting order?

Everyone knows that Berkman and Lee will drive in over 100 runs, but the Astros will need their speedster Michael Bourn to get on base. 

Bourne and Matsui combined for 61 stolen bases, but Bourn couldn't get on base.  His OBP was just .288.  Bourn, who was acquired for Brad Lidge last year, needs to get on base.  If he doesn't, Cecil Cooper won't think twice before making a change in center.

Outlook

The biggest effect the Houston Astros will have in 2009 will be at the trade deadline.  I really don't see the Astros competing this year, and it's essential to their future that they move some of their big named players.  

It wouldn't shock me to see Matsui, Valverde, Tejada, Hawkins, Ersted, and many more traded by July 31.  

Next Up: Pittsburgh Pirates

Very quietly, the Pirates had a pretty good off-season.  The Pirates locked up their two most popular players.  I'll be back shortly with a Pirates preview.  Til next time.

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