2005 Overview: For the second straight year in a row, the Houston Astros overcame a horrible start and spotty offense to capture the National League wildcard. Houston rolled past the Cardinals en route to becoming National League Champions only to lose in a 4 game sweep to the World Champion Chicago White Sox. Despite missing the first month of the season, slugger Lance Berkman (.293 24 82 RBI) was able to establish himself as one of the best power hitters in the game while 3rd baseman Morgan Ensberg (.283 36 101) also emerged as a prime time offensive force leading the team in HR (36), RBI (101), and slugging percentage (.557).
The ageless wonder Craig Biggio (.264 26 69) joined Jason Lane (.267 26 78) and Mike Lamb (.236 12 53) to help complete the rest of the starting lineup.
On the pitching side, starter Roy Oswalt (20-12, 2.94 ERA) was able to combine strong power numbers with excellent control in 2005 while Andy Pettitte (17-9, 2.39 ERA) bounced back from an injury-ridden 2004 season to pitch over 220 innings. Roger Clemens (13-8 1.87) at the age of 44 still was able to post respectable numbers joining superstar reliever Brad Lidge (4-4 2.
29 42 saves) to provide the Astros with a season ending 89-73 record. Off Season Moves: The Astros didn't make too many moves in the off season only because they really didn't need to. Their biggest acquisition was signing free agent Preston Wilson (.
260, 25 90) who was picked up to help provide more offensive stability and potentially replace Bagwell (who may or may not return in 2006). Reliever Trever Miller (2-2 4.06) was also added to help an already strong bullpen.
2006 Analysis: Much of the same faces will return in 2006 with Craig Biggio (94 Runs) and Willy Taveras, who led the team in stolen bases with 34 setting the table for the rest of the lineup. The Astros are hoping Tavares will learn to become more patient in his sophomore year and produce more walks. If Bagwell doesn't come back full-time, Berkman will likely move over to 1B with the newly acquired Preston Wilson expected to play leftfield. Roy Oswalt is expected to once again return as the ace of the staff after putting together back-to back 20 win seasons.
33-year-old Andy Pettitte has lost significant time to injuries in 2 of the last 4 seasons so the Astros are hoping he can be healthy for an entire 2006 campaign. Clemens is not expected to return and his regular season performance will be missed. He was not offered arbitration in the off season.
Houston is looking to their number 3 starter Brandon Backe (10-8, 4.76 ERA) to find more consistency in 2005. While Wandy Rodriguez (10-10, 5.53 ERA) and Ezequiel Astacio (3-6, 5.67 ERA) will remain the likely candidates as the fourth and fifth starters. With Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, former Met Dan Wheeler, lefty Mike Gallo and newly signed Trever Miller, the Houston bullpen is deep and perhaps one of the best in all of baseball.
Expect the Astros to receive some competition from the Cubs and St. Louis in 2006. If the pitching can hold itself together and the offense at least match the same numbers as last year they should find themselves in the thick of things within the NL Central. .
By: Jack Scrafford