The Sporting News did their annual preview of the Astros. How did they fare?
Offense: C. Houston finished in the bottom half of the N.L. in runs, on-base percentage and slugging in 2008, and it added no impact players in the offseason. Because Tejada isn't what he once was, Berkman and Lee have a heavy load to shoulder.
Pitching: C. Without Oswalt, Houston would have the weakest rotation in the division, even if Rodriguez and Hampton stayed healthy (far from a safe bet). The bullpen is solid with Geoff Geary, Doug Brocail and LaTroy Hawkins setting up Valverde, but it needs to reduce the homers allowed (MLB-high 70 last season).
Bench: C. Aaron Boone, expected to platoon at third, and fourth outfielder Darin Erstad bring experience and leadership, but their best days are behind them. Blum also is the club's most versatile infielder. Fifth outfielder Jason Michaels drove in 53 runs in 286 at-bats in 2008.
Manager: C. A full season of experience will help Cooper after a commendable rookie season. He is a players' manager who still is learning how to balance all of his responsibilities. He seems to be a quick learner, as evidenced by the Astros' strong second-half showing.
Then, a prediction:
The Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are better than the Astros, and the Reds also should pass them by this season.