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Monday, March 24, 2003
Season preview: Houston Astros

Projected batting order
Craig Biggio, CF
Julio Lugo, SS
Jeff Bagwell, 1B
Lance Berkman, LF
Jeff Kent, 2B
Richard Hidalgo, RF
Geoff Blum, 3B
Brad Ausmus, C
Roy Oswalt, RHP
Wade Miller, RHP
Shane Reynolds, RHP
Brian Moehler, RHP
Tim Redding, RHP/Jesus Sanchez, LHP
Orlando Merced, OF
Brian Hunter, OF
Jose Vizcaino, INF
Morgan Ensberg, INF
Gregg Zaun, C
Billy Wagner, LHP (CL)
Octavio Dotel, RHP
Ricky Stone, RHP
Brandon Puffer, RHP
Pete Munro, RHP

Complete Astros roster

 ESPN's Take

Q: Can the rotation beyond Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt take some pressure off of a bullpen that was overworked last year?
In his first season as the Astros' skipper, Jimy Williams had his work cut out for him. Despite having to use 11 different starting pitchers, Williams managed to lead Houston to a 84-78 record. And the Astros were the best hitting and one of the best fielding teams in the NL in 2002. This year, with the addition of former NL MVP Jeff Kent, their batting order is even deeper.
-- Rob Dibble

The Astros' lineup appears pretty loaded, which it is, but Geoff Blum will never be considered a big part of it. Look at Blum's numbers and you might see a guy ready for double digits in homers with a decent average. At least we do. He's a safe bet late in your draft.

How good is Octavio Dotel? Fantasy owners know by now not to overlook this middle reliever, even if he gets no saves. Dotel strikes out more batters than plenty of starters, and that fancy ERA does matter considering how many innings it is. Dotel's certainly a safer bet than some of the potential fifth starters here.
-- Eric Karabell

Jason Lane, OF
May not start the season with the Astros, but will be in the bigs at some point this year. If Richard Hidalgo continues to struggle, look for Lane to be given a chance in right field. Lane has 25-30 HR power and is a projected .275-.280 hitter. He hit .290 in 44 games during his call up last year.

 Manager: Jimy Williams
 Home: Minute Maid Park (42,180)
 '02 record: 84-78
 Team page | Schedule | Offseason moves

Catcher: Brad Ausmus
Won his second straight Gold Glove award last season. Ausmus finished the season tied for first in the NL with a .997 fielding percentage. His main focus will be on handling a young pitching staff. Pitchers posted a 3.82 ERA with Ausmus behind the plate.

First Base: Jeff Bagwell
Played with an arthritic shoulder last year and it is not expected to get better this season. Despite the injury, Bagwell hit 31 homers and had 98 RBI. It was also his seventh straight year of 30 HR and 100 BB. He should get plenty of opportunities to improve those numbers, with Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent hitting behind him.

Second Base: Jeff Kent
Might just be what the Astros need to get to the playoffs. He inherits second base, moving Craig Biggio to center field. Kent hit 37 HR and had 108 RBI last season and excelled when he was moved to the No. 3 hole. There is only one Bonds, but Berkman is no lightweight, expect similar numbers for Kent.

Third Base: Geoff Blum
Was brought in as a utility infielder from Montreal last season. When rookie Morgan Ensberg showed he was not ready to start at third, Blum took over. The Astros were surprised by his glovework and consistency at the plate.

Shortstop: Julio Lugo
Will be given the chance to be the everyday shortstop. If he has another lackluster performance like last season, either Jose Vizcaino or Adam Everett will take over. He has to improve an OBP of .322 if he wants to remain in the second spot. Twelve errors in just 60 games at short is way too many.

Left Field: Lance Berkman
Had his second straight MVP-type season last year. Berkman finished third in the NL in HR (42) and first in the NL in RBI (128). The scary part is that his numbers will improve now that the Astros have given him protection in Kent. Kent also allows Berkman to play left field, where he does not have to cover as much ground. Just concentrate on hitting big boy.

Center Field: Craig Biggio
Is becoming Mr. Everything in Houston. He has gone from playing catcher to second base to center field. Biggio will be relied on to lead off and get on for Bagwell and Berkman. He hit a career low .253 last season, 35 points below his career average.

Right Field: Richard Hidalgo
Had a rough 2002 season followed by a rougher offseason. Hidalgo returned home to Venezuela and was shot in the left arm during an attempted car-jacking in November. He has not lived up to the $32 million contract he signed after his 44-HR year in 2000. He hit .235 last season and has hit just 34 homers since.

No. 1 Starter: Roy Oswalt
Has at least one Cy Young Award in his future. There was no sophomore jinx for him last season as he went 19-9. Oswalt finished third in the NL in innings pitched (233) and fifth in strikeouts (208). He sets up hitters with a four-seam fastball that tops out at 97 mph and then drops a devastating 74 mph curveball with late break.

No. 2 Starter: Wade Miller
Could be an ace on most pitching staffs. He suffered a pinched nerve in his neck in April, which forced him to miss six weeks. Miller responded, winning 12 straight decisions. He throws a 96-mph fastball to go with his two seam sinker. Oswalt and Miller are a combined 70-31 in their careers.

No. 3 Starter: Shane Reynolds
Was once the Astros' No. 1 starter. He had to have back surgery in June and missed the rest of the season. He signed an incentive-laden contract for this season. Reynolds uses a sinker that runs 87-88 mph to set up his specialty high-70s split-finger.

No. 4 Starter: Brian Moehler
Made just three starts for the Tigers last season before the Reds felt they needed to add him for the stretch run. Moehler won just two of nine starts for the Reds and went on the disabled list with a weak shoulder. He mixes a good sinker with a cut fastball that occasionally can be an effective weapon against left-handed hitters.

Bullpen: Octavio Dotel, Ricky Stone, Brandon Puffer, Pete Munro
After Oswalt and Miller, Dotel is the most valuable pitcher for the Astros. He has closer's ability and last year went 6-4 with a 1.85 ERA. Dotel also struck out 118 batters in 97.1 IP. He needs to bridge the gap from the closers to Billy Wagner, even if that means pitching the seventh and eighth.

Closer: Billy Wagner
Is just flat-out nasty. Wagner has saved 30 or more games in four of the last five years. The Astros are trying to get Wagner to throw his slider more. They feel that makes his 100-mph fastball, look like 105. Now with a better offense, Wagner should get 40 saves for the first time in his career.

-- Matt Pike, ESPN The Magazine

Record: 84-78 | Finish: 2nd in NL Central | Results | Statistics: Batting | Pitching
Offense (NL rank) Defense (NL rank)
749 runs (5th)
Home: 405 runs (3rd)
Road: 344 (9th)
695 runs allowed (6th)
Home: 347 (10th)
Road: 3487 (6th)
2002 Stats Leaders  
Average: Jose Vizcaino, .303
Runs: Lance Berkman, 106
On-base pct: Berkman, .405
Stolen bases: Craig Biggio, 16
Wins: Roy Oswalt, 19
Saves: Billy Wagner, 35
Home runs: Berkman, 42
RBI: Berkman, 128
Slugging pct.: Berkman, .578
OPS: Berkman, .982
ERA: Oswalt, 3.01
Strikeouts: Oswalt, 208