StrategyMarch 1, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Houston Astros

By Jason Jarvis

Next on the list of teams in “30 Teams in 30 Days” is the Houston Astros. With 86 wins last year, Houston had its best year since 2005, in which they won 89 games. If the Astros don’t get some pitching to help Roy Oswalt, this team will struggle to win 80 games in 2009. There are some offensive building blocks with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence and an ace in Oswalt, but outside of that there isn’t a lot of upside. Can Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Bourn, J.R. Towles and company turn in good enough performances to push this team past the .500 mark?

For a closer look at the Houston Astros and the rest of the NL Central, be sure to check out The Can of Corn NL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C J.R. Towles.137.250.253104160146
1B Lance Berkman.312.420.5671142910618554
2B Kazuo Matsui.293.354.4275863320375
SS Miguel Tejada.283.314.4159213667632
3B Geoff Blum.240.287.4183614531325
LF Carlos Lee.314.368.56961281004436
CF Michael Bourn.229.288.3005752941467
RF Hunter Pence.269.318.46678258311595

Unsettled: J.R. Towles, Geoff Blum, and Michael Bourn. Humberto Quintero is looking to take over the catcher’s job and at the very least he may steal quite a few at bats from Towles, unless Towles gets off to a hot start. Blum will be looking over his shoulder at Aaron Boone and will also share some at bats with him regardless of who starts. Bourn is a little better off, but if he can’t maintain better than a .288 OBP, he won’t hold on to a full-time gig either.

Target: Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee. Both should be solid second-round options for 2009. If Lee continues to do what he did last year, he should end up with 35 HR and 125 RBIs with over 550 AB. That would be his best year to date. Berkman was a man on a mission at the beginning of the season last year with a 1.096 OPS before the All-Star break, but really cooled off in the second half with an .821 OPS. Berkman has actually been a better second-half hitter the last five years so don’t expect another fall off in 2009.

The Rotation

Roy Oswalt (R)17-103.541.1816547208.2 
Wandy Rodriguez (L)9-73.541.3113144137.1 
Mike Hampton (L)3-44.851.42382878w/Atl
Brandon Backe (R)9-146.051.6712777166.2 
Brian Moehler (R)11-84.561.358236150 

Unsettled: Mike Hampton, Brandon Backe, and Brian Moehler. Houston’s problem is that they don’t really have anyone else to turn to for starting pitching. Chris Sampson was an option until he had elbow surgery last October and looks to be nothing more than a bullpen guy this year. Some young guys to keep an eye on might be Fernando Nieve, Troy Patton, and Bud Norris.

Target: Roy Oswalt. Be aware that Oswalt isn’t the strikeout pitcher that he used to be and that he is on the wrong side of 30. However, he will still be the work horse you need at the top of your rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is another option late in drafts that people are turning to, and there is no ignoring his K/9 and BB/9 ratios as a lefty in the late rounds.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Jose Valverde (R)443.381.18832372
LaTroy Hawkins (R)13.921.21482262

Chasing Saves: Jose Valverde is the guy in H-Town. With 91 saves over the last two years, he is about as good as you can get – grab this guy as a top-10 closer and don’t look back. Behind Valverde, you’re looking at Latroy Hawkins, Doug Brocail, and Geoff Geary, who don’t excite anyone. Look elsewhere for your middle relief options.

Final Thoughts

Houston is an all-or-nothing team. At first, you see Berkman, Lee, Tejada, Pence, Oswalt, and Valverde but past that there is much to be desired. If the big boys deliver, then they’ll finish above .500, but that will not be enough. The NL Central has better teams than that and Houston will most likely be watching from their couch in October. As a fantasy owner if you can grab a couple of these top guys then they could help you on your way to the playoffs.

Yesterday, we previewed the Cincinnati Reds. Good luck in 2009, and check back tomorrow for the Milwaukee Brewers, the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Jason Jarvis is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Jason in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of J35J.
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