Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/20/13
The Houston Astros knew that 2012 would be a rebuilding season, but, even knowing that, it was a disappointing season for Astros fans.  The team changed managers mid-season firing Brad Mills and bringing in Tony DeFrancesco on their way to a last place 55-107 finish, 42 games behind the division winning Cincinnati Reds.  With a loss on the final day of the season, the Astros finished with the worst record in franchise history passing the 2011 team which finished 56-106. Over the last two seasons, the Astros have traded away their veterans moving Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Wendy Rodriguez, and Carlos Lee.  The youth movement got their feet wet in 2012 and will need to produce even more for a better 2013.  The Astros were led in batting average by Jose Altuve, who batted .290 upping his career average in a season and a half to .286.  The new ace of the staff with the trade of Rodriguez became Bud Norris.  Despite a losing record (7-13), Norris did finish with 165 SO in 168.1 IP. The Astros didn’t just sit on their hands as they become the first team since the Milwaukee Brewers to switch leagues, going from the N.L. Central to the A.L. West.  They hired a new manager, Bo Porter, who had been a finalist for previous managerial positions with the Marlins and Pirates.  The Astros traded Jed Lowrie to Oakland picking up power-hitting 1B Chris Carter (16 HR in 67 games for Oakland last season).  They signed reliever RP Jose Veras from Milwaukee, SP Phillip Humber from the White Sox, and Carlos Pena from Tampa Bay.  Houston also added some experience signing Rick Ankiel and Erik Bedard to minor-league deals with a chance to make the squad in Spring Training. 3 Up                                                                      Best Case Scenario for 2012 The Houston Astros haven’t had a winning record since 2008, including back-to-back 100 loss seasons.  The best case scenario for 2013 has to be a return to close to .500, if not reaching that mark.  The Astros will have their work cut for them going into the ultra-competitive A.L. West where three teams won 89 or more games.  However, if the youth continues to improve, and the Astros get some pop from the added bats of Carter and Pena, then they can be closer to .500 than to 100 losses. Jose Altuve had a breakout season in 2012, and he will need to continue for the Astros to have a more productive 2013. Most Important Astros Carlos Pena was a huge acquisition for the Astros, and they will need his bat to power the offense.  He is very familiar with the American League, having played 11 of his 12 seasons in the A.L.  The Astros probably aren’t going to get the Pena who smashed 46 HRs in 2007, but he has hit 28 or more HRs in five of his last six seasons.  If the top of the order can get on, then Pena can knock them in. The rotations in the AL West are very strong.  To compete, the Astros will need a strong sophomore season from Lucas Harrell.  Slated as the No. 2 pitcher going into Spring Training, Harrell had a strong first season as a starting pitcher.  He went 11-11, no small feat for a team that was 56-106.  In 193.2 IP, he struck out 140 batters and posted an ERA of 3.76. Potential Breakout Players Tyler Greene is going into Spring Training with a chance to win the starting SS role after the Astros traded Jed Lowrie to Oakland.  The former Cardinal showed some pop coming over to Houston, hitting seven HRs in 39 games.  In his first season in appearing over 100 gamers, Greene did hit 11 HRs in between the Cardinals and Astros.  Jose Veras, a power relief pitcher signed as a free agent, has a chance to be the closer for the first time in his career.  In seven MLB seasons, Veras has 5 career saves.  But Veras has shown the power in his arm, striking out more batters than IP in each of his last three seasons including 79 SOs in 67 IP last season with the Brewers. 3 Down Worst Case Scenario The Houston Astros already know about bad, having had back-to-back 100 loss seasons.  There is a thin line between letting youngsters play and not having them live up to their scouted potential.  If the youngsters don’t live up to their potential, the Astros’ schedule looks daunting with an unbalanced schedule against the A.L. West not to mention increased games against the loaded A.L. East.  A third straight 100 loss season would be the worst case scenario in Bo Porter’s first season.    Areas of Concern It has to be the offense, which struggled in the National League last season to bat .236 as a team (14th in the N.L.) and score 583 runs (15th in the N.L.).  With a young pitching staff, the Astros need to score some runs.  They’ve landed potential RBI men in Carter and Pena.  But, the Astros also need to get on base.  The Astros had no .300 hitters, and only one batter (Altuve) who played in over 70 games and batted over .250. Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012 J.D. Martinez, a possible starter in the OF, watched his average and slugging percentage dip with an increase in playing time in 2012.  He went from .274 in 2011 to .241 in 2012.  The Astros need more of the 2011 version to increase their low run production.  Erik Bedard has the possibility to be the 5th starter for Houston, but he needs to rebound from his 2012.  Bedard ended up being released by the Pirates last season, going 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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