Feb 212013
 

Weekly preview of each of the Rangers’ American League West rivals for the 2013 season – from the bottom up.

  1. Houston Astros

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

The Rangers’ cross-state inter-league rival is making the move to the American League West starting in the 2013 season to become a more frequent opponent on the Rangers’ schedule and potentially bring more intrigue and consequence to each match-up.

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

New Manager Bo Porter hopes to get things turned around in Houston.

The Astros are a young team who will struggle to really build their identity in the American League in 2013.  However, with new manager Bo Porter in place, a respected front-office and a strong farm system (4th on Keith Law’s organizational rankings),they hope to get out of the cellar in the next 2-3 seasons.

Unfortunately, with the move to the AL West (Hello DH!), the limited experience of many key players (youth) and the anticipated improvement in Seattle, it’s not likely that they will finish anywhere but last this season.  The question is, how many games will this team lose?

After finishing last in the National League Central in 2011 and 2012, with 106 and 107 losses respectively, the win’s won’t come any easier in 2013.  Is another 100+ loss season on tap for the Lastros (sorry, couldn’t resist)?  Uhhhh…yes.

The Bats & Gloves

As stated earlier, the Astros have some young talent at the Major League level and the large majority of that, if not all, falls to the position players.  With some moving parts and flexibility in the line-up, it could easily change, but…

Projected Lineup (from Chip Bailey, Ultimate Astros blog)

  1. Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

    Jose Altuve will set the tone for the Astros’ lineup in 2013.

    Jose Altuve, 2B

  2. Tyler Greene, SS
  3. Brett Wallace, 1B
  4. Chris Carter, LF
  5. Justin Maxwell, CF
  6. J.D. Martinez, RF
  7. Carlos Pena, DH
  8. Jason Castro, C
  9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

There are many potential variations out there for the Astros’ lineup, but the players are pretty set with the exception of OF Fernando Martinez who should crack the lineup regularly throughout the season.

The 5’5″ Altuve is a solid lead-off option, but beyond that the Astros have a number of question marks with inexperience and inconsistency being the big culprits.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some players here, but I don’t think the Astros can count on the offense to improve enough to avoid 100 losses again.

If a couple of the youngsters (Martinez, Martinez, Wallace, Castro & Dominguez) can break out and if they can get some consistency from the veterans (Pena, Maxwell), they could help win 7+ more games in 2013, but….

The Arms

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

Can the Rocket improve this pitching staff?

A few key figures from 2012:

  • .270 Batting Average Against – 27th in the Majors
  • .337 Opponents On-Base Percentage – 28th in Majors
  • .427 Opponents Slugging Percentage – 25th in Majors
  • 2.17 K/BB – 25th in Majors
  • 1.43 WHIP – 29th in Majors
  • Only blew 19 saves…but that was on only 50 save opportunities, so good enough for a 62% Save Rate – 26th in Majors

With all due respect to Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun and Joey Votto…it’s not going to get any easier in the American League West.

The Astros brought former Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens in to help, but that’s not going to help unless he brought Brian McNamee along.

The Rotation

There are as many as 10 pitchers in the mix, vying for a spot in the starting rotation, but here’s what’s likely:

  1. Bud Norris
  2. Lucas Harrell
  3. Phillip Humber
  4. Jordan Lyles
  5. Erik Bedard

Brad Peacock, Alex White, Jared Cosart and John Ely are all talented young pitchers who will very likely get a shot at some point during the season as well.

The Pen

Looking at this bunch, I would say there are no clearly defined roles with setup and closing duties open for competition in Spring Training – and the possibility of some of the youngsters mentioned above (Peacock, White, Cosart and Ely) fighting for spots in the bullpen (ala Robbie Ross).

More than likely, Jose Veras will be the closer at least to start the season.

The Manager

First year rookie manager Bo Porter has his hands full, but barring a cluster of unforgivable mistakes, expect the Astros front office to have some patience with him.  I, for one, think Porter was an excellent hire and if given time can be a good major league manager.

From “The Legend of Bo Porter” on RantSports.com:

Porter studied all 162 games of the Astros season last year. He believes the Astros could have won 35 more games than the 55 that the Astros did actually win. If you do the math, that is 90 win season for the Astros and would have ultimately propelled the Astros into the playoffs as the second Wild Card. Porter said those 35 games were lost at the “breaking point”. He also went on to say all the Astros need was mental toughness, and of course, a little motivation.

Maybe a little much, but shows the enthusiasm and confidence.

The Bottom Line

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

Astros’ prospect Delino Deshields Jr.

The facts:

  • New rookie manager
  • Move to the American League
  • Lots of unproven young talent
  • Very shaky (at best) pitching staff
  • Highly regarded front office
  • More young talent in the minor league system

Not working this game by game, but here are my predictions:

  • Best case: 77-95 – Altuve solidifies himself as an up-and-coming MLB star, a couple of the young bats really break out and Brad Peacock and Alex White save the pitching staff.
  • Worst case: 52-110 – Altuve regresses and Porter can’t find the right mix offensively or with his staff all season.

Up next…stay tuned.

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