The Astros failed to claim their third consecutive playoff-spot in 2006, although they had one of the deepest and experienced pitching rotations in the majors with Oswalt, Pettitte and Clemens at the top. The Astros’ problem certainly was their offense. They had the worst Batting Average in the Majors with .255, they ranked 25th with runs scored, 21st in OBP 29th in slugging and 17th in homeruns as well as in SBs. They addressed their batting problems with the signing of Carlos Lee, who along with Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt is a Top Tier of the Houston Astros. They lost their only real base-stealer with Willy Taveras, so nothing can be expected in that category.
The Top Tier
1B Lance Berkman – Lance had an MVP-type season last year. His bat carried the Astros’ offense through the season and despite having virtually no protection, Berkman’s power numbers were up there with Pujols and Howard. In 2006 he reached a career-highs in home runs and RBI to a total of .315/45/136 and 3 stolen bases. Since the Astros acquired a proven bat with Carlos Lee to protect the Big Puma, the projection might be a little better, something around .320/47/140 should be possible barring injuries.
SP Roy Oswalt – Roy will be a Cy Young candidate again this year, but it remains to be seen if he will eventually be acknowledged. He is not that great of a strikeout-pitcher anymore (166 in 2006), maybe a concession to Minute Maid Park, but his ERA of 2.98 was leading the NL and he posted a solid WHIP of 1.17. He only managed 15 Ws last year (after two 20-W-seasons), but that was largely due to the lack of run-support and shortcomings of the bullpen. With the additional support of Carlos Lee, he should once again be able to win 20. Project the Wizard to: 21 wins, 2.98 ERA, 175 Ks and a 1.16 WHIP.
OF Carlos Lee – Over the last years, there is only one word to describe “El Caballo”: consistent. He has not hit less than 20 HRs over the last 7 seasons and not less than 30 over the last four seasons. He consistently drives in about one hundred runs and hits around .300. For a power-hitter his strike-out total of 65 last year was quite impressive and with the Astros he plays in the prime of his career. Carlos posted a .300/37/116 line with 19 stolen bases last year, splitting seasons between Milwaukee and Texas. Since Minute Make Park has an extremely short left field, his power numbers might rise slightly. Project Carlos to: .290/39/125 with 14 stolen bases.
The Second Tier
SP Jason Jennings – Jason’s career numbers certainly sufferd from pitching at Coors Field and therefore, he was not the most attractive fantasy take. Still he posted a winning record at what can be considered a pitcher’s nightmare. After they started to use the humidores in Colorado, Jason’s numbers went up considerably and he was able to put up a 3.78 ERA and a career-high 142 strikeouts. Considering that MMP is slightly more pitcher-friendly than Coors Field and that Jennings is a groundball pitcher, who now has the luxury of Adam Everett behind him and a much better offense, he could be a surprise this season. Project him to: 17 wins, 3.62 ERA, 148Ks and 1.32 WHIP and 200+ innings.
The Third Tier
OF Luke Scott – Luke’s name here might possibly come as a surprise, since he is not even guaranteed a roster spot, but if he can perform anywhere near his phenomenal 65-game stint, this should hardly be in question. He hit .336 with 10 HRs, 37 RBI and 6 triples. His OPS was at an amazing 1.047. He has worked hard this offseason, which leads me to believe, that he will be the opening-day right fielder. I expect him to post a .289/28/85 line.
3B Morgan Ensberg – Morgan certainly has it in him to be a top tier. He has proven that, when he had an MVP-type 2005 season and was really hitting hot in April of 2006. Then again, he also has it in him to be in a giant slump. If all things come together, you might really get a sleeper with Mo, who can hammer 30-40 balls out of the park, drive in a hundred runs and posts a .290 average. Then again he is also good for a .240 record and 50 RBI, but he will still hit 20 HRs and walk a hundred times.
RP Brad Lidge – Despite his struggles last season, Brad Lidge is still considered one of the premier closers of the game. He is the number one strike-out relief pitchers and posted three consecutive seasons with more than 100 Strikeouts. Last season Brad apparently had problems with his mechanics and walked too many batters that hurt him later to leave his ERA at 5.28. However, he still saved 32 out of 38 games, which is not abysmal for an “out-year”. Since he revised his mechanics in the offseason, the front-office expects him to turn into the low-2-ERA-closer, that he was before Pujols.
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