Houston Astros: Look out below



Dave Giusti

Dave Giusti: Won two games for the Colt 45s, 15 for the Astros in 1966; he saved 133 for the Pirates in the 70s, including one in winning the 71 World Seies; threw the game-tying home run in Game 5 of the NLCS to Johnny Bench


Time goes by like pouring rain: Bud Norris can strike batters out — he just can’t get enough of them out. Norris has averaged better than a strikeout an inning in his six years of professional baseball, yet he has career ERAs of 3.65 (minors) and 4.82 (majors). Even in the minors, Norris had just one season with an ERA less than 3.79, and that was in 2009 when he had his lowest strikeout rate. Somehow, with a 2.62 ERA, Norris was 4-9.  Norris will be 26 on Wednesday, and he’s rarely won — his career pro record is 28-38. If there’s a reason he doesn’t, it’s not because of his arm.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Astros reportedly discussed bringing up pitcher Jordan Lyles last year. Given Lyles’ age — 20 — and his lack of success after a promotion to AAA –0-3, 5.40 ERA — it’s probably wise they didn’t. Still, given that the rotation may include Nelson Figueroa, it won’t be long. One caveat, though: There’s a lot of similarities between Norris’ and Lyles’ minor-league statistics: high strikeout rates, some high ERAs and losing records. The big difference, though , is Lyles will be four years younger when he gets to the majors.

What is this man doing here? The Astros may need pitching help — they were 10th in the NL in ERA last year — but they’re not likely to get it from from Australian left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith, an offseason free-agent signee. His 2010 with Seattle might have been the worst for any pitcher last year: 1-10, a 6.75 ERA, 141 hits in 109 innings, 25 home runs allowed, a .954 OPS against. Everyone was a Hall of Famer if Rowland-Smith was pitching. We can’t see much good he’ll do for the Astros, except perhaps to bolster Norris’ confidence.

Outlook: Thank God for the Pirates. The Astros have been going in the wrong direction ever since their 2005 World Series appearance, and they’re not stopping now. Even the Pirates may not prevent them from hitting bottom this year.

The Astros are bad. Bad, bad. Here’s all you need to know about their lineup: Of their projected starting eight, Michael Bourn had the highest on-base percentage last year, at .341. The Astros don’t walk and they don’t hit for average and they won’t hit nearly enough solo home runs to make up for it.

The pitching isn’t terrible, and may offer hope if Norris and Lyles pitch to their abilities, but who wants to depend on Brett Myers as an ace, and what kind of mentor will he be?

What hope there is offensively is built around young position players Jason Castro (catcher) and Brett Wallace (first base). Castro is 23 and hit only .205 in a short trial last year, and the Astros don’t have a good track record with young catchers. He’s only getting the job now because J.R. Towles was even worse — .189 in 281 at-bats.

And Wallace, 24, has already been traded three times and moved across the infield from third to first. He’ll have to hit an awful lot more than the .863 OPS he managed in the minors to be an asset.

The rest of the Astros’ lineup is mostly either overpaid (Carlos Lee), underachieving (Hunter Pence) or receycled (Bill Hall, Clint Barmes). There aren’t many teams Hall and Barmes could make, let along get 450 at-bats for. Yet, they’re an improvement over what the Astros had last year.

Remember when: Houston lost 96 games its first three years, then its nickname, changing from the Colt 45s to the Astros. This year’s team may not be as lucky.

The Houston Colt 45s:

Next: Pittsburgh

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