Well we've got 19 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Houston Astros.
Lineup: Things could get ugly here. Carlos Lee is still decent, but he's clearly on the decline phase of his career. Lance Berkman could have a Hall of Fame case if he hangs around for a few more years - and his production isn't exactly slowing - but he's had injury woes of late, which are only exacerbated by his recent knee surgery that will likely make him miss opening day. Hunter Pence is the only guy outside of those two whom we feel comfortable describing as "above-average," and that's a problem. Up the middle, CF Michael Bourn is fast, which is nice, but Kaz Matsui and Tommy Manzella (Tulane!) are one of the weakest-hitting double play combos in MLB, and J.R. Towles, while once a shining prospect behind the plate, hasn't done much in somewhat limited PAs at the big-league level. Pedro Feliz is a horrendous hitter - which surprised us, but consider (1) that his OPS has decreased every year since the high-water mark in 1999 (.793) and was nearly 100 points lower last season (.694) and (2) that his career OBP is .293 - and hasn't been great shakes with the glove of late, which used to be his calling card. To make matters worse, this team is paper thin at all positions; Jason Michaels is the primary backup at all three outfield spots, Jeff Keppinger is next in line at SS and 2B, and Geoff Blum would get the call if either Feliz or Berkman go down. Yikes.
Rotation: Well, there's at least some hope to be had here. Not much, mind you, but some. Roy Oswalt seems to have been wearing down over the past few seasons, and isn't much above-average at this point even if he can stay healthy. Wandy Rodriguez is the real ace here, as he put together an excellent season last year and is young enough to keep improving...but we don't think we can handle one of the better pitchers in the division being named 'Wandy.' Behind him is Brett Myers, who has, if nothing else, a big name and a World Series ring, and Felipe Paulino and Bud Norris, a couple of young strikeout maestros with the potential for a big 2010. But, again, depth is a problem; Brian Moehler is listed at the 6th starter. Guhhh.
Bullpen: Matt Lindstrom can get K's with the best of them, and Brandon Lyon will do his best to justify his outlandish $15MM contract. He won't justify it, of course, because he's not very good, but he'll at least try. We assume. Bridging the gap to those 8th and 9th innings are...Jesse Fulchino? Tim Byrdak? Alberto Arias? Chris Sampson? Our eyes!
Overall: The fact that we ended the preceding paragraphs with 'Yikes,' 'Guhhh,' and 'Our eyes!' should tell you a lot about the overall outlook of this team. The only way that they avoid being utter laughingstocks is if every single starter is healthy for the entire season. Which surely happens all the time, right?
Predicted Record: 70-92, 5th place NL Central. Hmm. Apparently it doesn't happen all the time.
Beer: Lone Star. Calling itself 'The National Beer of Texas,' Lone Star is for the deluded Texan who (a) counts Texas as a nation and (b) thinks the Astros have a shot. So...Ed Wade.