2009 Houston Astros Season Outlook
The Houston Astros came into 2008 with the uninformed opinion that they could compete for a playoff spot, and the results weren't pretty.
Heading into 2009, the team still doesn't seem to have a firm grip on the level of talent it has assembled.
The Astros had plenty of offseason distractions thanks to shortstop Miguel Tejada, who pleaded guilty to perjury in connection with his comments about steroids before a congressional committee.
Tejada seems to be happier now that all of the steroids stuff is behind him and he can get back to playing baseball. Maybe we will see a re-emergence of the old, exciteable Tejada this year.
There is no doubting the offensive talent on this team, beginning with first baseman Lance Berkman. Berkman gets plenty of protection from outfielder Carlos Lee, who missed the final month of last season with an injury.
The Astros have a true ace at the top of their rotation in Roy Oswalt, but the pitcher began to break down in 2008 and had a shaky year. They will hope Oswalt can bounce back with a strong 2009.
After Oswalt, things go downhill in a hurry for the rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is solid, but Brandon Backe is nothing more than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
The team signed Mike Hampton to a contract in the offseason, but I'm not sure what they are hoping to get out of a pitcher who has started a handful of games over the past several seasons.
While Hampton is certainly a low-risk, high-reward acquisition, the chances that the move pays off is somewhere between slim and none.
At least when the Astros do have a lead heading into the late-innings, there is confidence in their bullpen to shut the door. Jose Valverde had a strong first season with the Astros and is one of the top closers in the National League.
Houston should have enough offense to stay above water in the Central division, but they don't have what it takes to compete with the big boys or contend for a playoff spot.