Astros fans can expect a lot of fruitless outs this season
107-loss seasons seldom breed optimism in the fans of baseball teams. That goes double when your team had a lone extra win the season before. So it is difficult to blame the dejected Houston Astros fans for their cynicism.
Now would be the spot for a ray of sunshine—an unbiased source avowing a historic rebound season in 2013 while disinterring the auspices tucked away in the mausoleum that is Houston Astros baseball. Yes, this would be the perfect spot for such a declaration. That is, of course, if there were any reason for one
Since there is no such reason, in its stead five reasons why the Astros will surpass the century mark in regular season losses for the third consecutive seasons will have to suffice.
The Astros will face more formidable foes this season, like the Texas Rangers
While the NL Central boasted two playoff teams in 2012, in the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, the division on a whole was fairly weak. As bad as the Astros were, they were gifted a divisional punching bag in the 61-101 Chicago Cubs, against whom they posted a 7-8 record. Granted, that record is not great, but take into account that against all other opponents they were 48-99. Yikes.
Also, take into account that each teams' record in their division was at least a little inflated based on their fifteen or sixteen matches against the Astros.
Now to their new division. The AL West also had two playoff teams, the Texas Rangers, and Oakland Athletics. But, the other two teams were not nearly as bad as the cellar of the NL Central. The Los Angeles Angels finished with 89 wins, and with a great lineup and starting rotation, are perfectly poised to make a run at the playoffs in 2013. The Seattle Mariners won only 75, but with their fantastic prospects blooming, along with the offseason additions of some much needed bats in Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, they have a promising future themselves.
With stronger competition, the Astros will find themselves unable to escape certain long losing streaks, en route to another atrocious season.
Jose Veras promises to be a mess of a closer in 2013
An Achilles' Heel (note the indefinite article) of the Astros last season was their bullpen. Their cumulative reliever's ERA was 4.46, good enough to best four teams and place them 26th in the league. They allowed opponents a whopping .274 batting average, tied with the Colorado Rockies for dead last, and accounted for 31 of their team's losses. Only the Brewers' bullpen lost more games, at 33.
If the Astros made some nice signings to retool their bullpen, you could throw those stats out the window. But, as Astros fans sadly know, the organization has done little to improve in that area.
As of now, newcomer Jose Veras is slated as the teams closer. And if a mediocre 4.01 career ERA isn't enough to predeclare him a failure, perhaps his five saves in seventeen career chances will sway opinions to the unfavorable.
This article has little room for trashing the entire Astros bullpen, but all that need left be said is, all the boys are back for one more go-round.
Free agent acquisition Phil Humber is hardly a "perfect" fit
Perhaps scathing adjectives shouldn't be used to characterize a group of professional athletes, but when the utter mess of the Astros' rotation is the group being described, "awful" might even be too mild.
After shipping star southpaw Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates last season, the Astros were left with righty Lucas Harrell as the rotation "ace". Not to disparage Harrell, who posted a solid 3.76 ERA, compiled 193.2 innings over 32 starts, and notched 11 wins (and with a woeful offense like the Astros had, that is no small accomplishment), but if that is the guy the team relies on to snap losing streaks and go toe-to-toe with the best pitchers in the league, then that team is going to fall more than a little short in competing with decent teams. Bud Norris, who ESPN lists as their number one starter on the depth chart, is a 27-year-old journeyman who went 7-13 last year, so he can be scratched off as an adequate makeshift ace as well.
Not unlike their bullpen moves, the starting rotation transactions for the Astros were near nonexistent. That is, unless one were inclined to call the waiver claim of Philip Humber, proud claimant to a stratospheric 6.44 ERA in his final season with the Chicago White Sox, a good move, in which case, the first sentence of this paragraph is moot. Or perhaps the signing of the feeble, aging, but immensely-talented lefty Eric Bedard? After posting a 5.01 ERA to go along with a 7-14 record last season, there is little reason to anticipate rejuvenation.
The fresh-faced prospects on the staff, Jordan Lyles and Alex White, who combined for a 7-21 record and 5.27 ERA, can be excused for the poor performances, based on their aging 22 and 25, respectively. The pair should improve with some major league innings now under their belts, but they'd have to be a pair of aces, each near the Strasburg strata, to have a remote chance of saving this team from the cellar of their division.
Astros fans would kill to have Craig Biggio playing again
As bad as the Astros pitching is, a team does not accomplish something so abysmal as a 100-loss season on poor defense alone. Many a team has salvaged 70 or 75 wins with hardly a semblance of a competent pitcher by smacking the hell out of the ball.
Not so for these Astros. Last season, they finished dead last in the majors in runs scored with 583. They also finished in the cellar in both SLG and OBP, tallying .302 and .371, respectively. That says they can't hit for power, can't get on base, and cannot find ANY way to manufacture runs. At least not to the level needed to win, oh...70 games. An offense that atrocious could have Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens, all in their primes, and still lose 100 games (okay, a bit hyperbolic, but you get the picture).
Last year the Astros shopped their aging star outfielder Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins for prospect Fernando Martinez, who showed little promise in his first significant big league action, batting .237, mustering a .300 OBP, and slugging .466 in 118 at-bats with the Astros last season. Granted, that is a small sample size, and the kid showed some pop, but if that is the kind of middle of the order bat they hope will replace Lee, there is little reason for optimism.
The Astros did try and get some pop in the middle of the order by signing designated hitter Carlos Pena to a one-year deal, but Pena is a player who has already seen his best days. He has failed to eclipse a .200 average in two of the past three seasons, and while he still has pop in his bat, his home run total dipped from 28 in 2011 to 19 in 2012. He might be a decent bat to have in an already good lineup, but not a great difference maker in a terrible one.
The only other offensive players of note are shortstop Jed Lowrie and second baseman Jose Altuve. Lowrie, who came over from the Boston Red Sox before the 2012 season, flourished in limited time in Houston, clocking 16 home runs, 18 doubles, and 42 RBI in only 97 games. But, as in Boston, injuries have always haunted Lowrie, so as solid as he is, he can't help much if he isn't on the field.
Altuve was outstanding in his first full big league season. His BA/OBP/SLG was .290/.340/.399, and he stole 33 bases, en route to his selection, as the only Houston Astros player, to the 2012 NL All Star team.
The rest of the bunch on offense is hardly even worth noting. A bunch of players who are below average at best, and glorified bench players at worst. With such an offense, it is quite difficult to fathom a dramatic one-year turnaround in Houston's run production.
First-year manager Bo Porter will need to conduct miracles to save the Astros
It's tough to say anything bad about first year Astros manager Bo Porter. In fact, it's tough to say anything about him AT ALL. The 40-year-old former outfielder has spend six seasons as a third base coach or bench coach for the Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Washington Nationals.
This will be Porter's first shot at a big league managerial job. While he did work under one of the greats, Davy Johnson, while coaching third base for the Nationals the last two seasons, it's going to be hard for him to acclimate to a new, challenging job. There's no reason to think he won't be a successful big league manager, maybe even with the Astros.
Just not this year. With the horrendous talent compiled in that locker room, they'd need Casey Stengel at his finest to muster a .500 season out of them. Couple the lack of talent with the growing pains of a first year manager, and there is no reason to think Porter will be able to save the 2013 Houston Astros from the throes of irrelevancy.