As I write this, Houston is playing Pittsburgh in their second game of the season. What that means is that I'm running dreadfully late on my season previews. Fortunately for all concerned, it really doesn't matter. I do have the advantage of telling you that apparently Brad Lidge still sucks and blows saves. Okay, maybe he doesn't completely suck, but you have to think the Astros' fans hold their collective breath whenever he comes into the game. Of course the Astros are far from the only team in the league with what I'm going to call the "Armando Benitez Effect" (n) - a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your favorite team's closer du jour enters the game and you just know he's due to melt down at any moment. Other players inducing this ailment include: David Weathers, Ryan Dempster, Fransisco Cordero, Jason Isringhausen and Huston Street. If you like, take a gander at last year's blown save leaders. The weird thing about this discussion is that I don't necessarily think you NEED a good closer to win. Last year the Cardinals only got one save in the World Series and that came from Adam Wainright who has three regular-season saves in his entire career! The White Sox had Bobby Jenks in '05 who came out of nowhere and the Red Sox revived Keith Foulke for one solid season the year before.
As for the rest of the 'Stros, I just can't see how their management expects them to be any better than last year when they just barely finished above even-money at 82-80. You have to love Berkman and Carlos Lee, but Adam Everett and Morgan Ensburg hit a whopping .239 and .235 last season, respectively. Roy Oswalt could potentially win the Cy Young, but there's no real number two unless you're getting fired up about 40 year old Woody Williams. What this all points to is another July run at winning the Roger Clemens lottery. But, he keeps getting older and the Astros are going to have to be in the hunt when Rocket season rolls around. They better not get off to a slow start or this season could turn into the Hunt for Red October before they know it.
None of this is to take away from my favorite thing all-time about the Astros, the retro uniforms. I can still remember somehow lucking into lower-deck (ahhh the "blue seats" in Riverfront) Reds/Astros tickets as a kid while they were still wearing this ridiculous garb. You have to think they're due a good 5-10 wins on MLB throwback days every year just by distracting their opponents. Of course, I have no proof of this. Somebody put the Hardball Times on this one.
At the end of the year with this team, I think it comes down to what I said earlier. They just aren't any better. What about this team makes you think they will win more games than they did before? Yes, the NL Central is weak, but it was last year too. These guys will tease you occasionally, but end up middle of the pack in the division this year. And I'm not just saying that because they're 0-1.