So Cecil Cooper now says the Astros are capable of winning 90 games this year. Why would he think such a thing?
Here are the reasons he gave:
“We have a terrific bullpen, one of the best in the game. We’ve got one of the best closers [Jose Valverde] in the game. We’ve got the best ace [Roy Oswalt], if not in all of baseball, definitely in the National League.”
Closer: doesn’t matter. Bullpen might be OK. Oswalt’s not the best but he’s very good.
If the Astros don’t have the best catcher in baseball in Ivan Rodriguez, Cooper insisted, “we’re pretty close to the top.” He sees three of the best offensive players at their positions — Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada — all playing on his team. And he views Hunter Pence as “one of the best young stars” in the league.
Rodriguez is an offensive improvement over Brad Ausmus, who slugged .296 last year. Berkman is terrific. Lee has hit well. Tejada just completely fell apart last year. He got three years older in one year. His slugging percentage has dropped four years in a row. His OBP last year was .314.
The Astros won 86 games last year despite allowing more runs than they scored, which means they can’t actually be considered an 86-win team. I’d say 79. What could make them better? Well, Michael Bourn could have a good year. Hunter Pence could be better. Lee and Berkman could have solid years. Rodriguez doesn’t need to do much to outperform Ausmus offensively. Kaz Matsui could play a full season. I don’t see an answer at third base.
Defensively, Bourn and Pence are both excellent. Matsui and Berkman are good. So the pitchers need to do whatever’s necessary to get people to hit the ball to the right side.
Pitching: Oswalt should be good. Wandy Rodriguez has had flashes of excellence. Mike Hampton could be crafty. Bullpen might be not awful.
It’s just hard to see 11 extra victories there. Even if you squint and the light is just right.
Also, how smart is it as a manager to get sucked into talking about a number of victories? I just wouldn’t want to put anyone in that position. It’s too easy to play 90-win baseball and win 85 games. Or fewer.