NL Central Questions & Answers: Houston Astros

Prior to the start of the season we’re going to be previeing the other NL Central teams in two ways. First, Berselius will post the team’s projections for 2011 and then later in the day we’re going to post an interview with one of the team’s bloggers. Today’s Q&A is with Timothy DeBlock of Crawfish Boxes.

Obstructed View: There are two features in ballparks that I cannot stand.  The first is the brick wall at Wrigley Field and the other is the flag pole on Tal’s Hill and that hill in general.  Both the brick and the hill/pole are unnecessarily dangerous in my opinion.  As an Astros fan, what are your thoughts on Tal’s Hill?

Timothy DeBlock:  I’m not as passionate about getting rid of the hill as some, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it leveled. It does make for some great highlight reel catches and bloopers, but the Astros have been fortunate to not have a serious injury out there. I know the Astros were trying to add some tradition to the park, but it just makes it look like a five year old designed the park, especially now having added cows to the foul poles.

Obstructed View: Do you expect things to get better with the sale of the team. I ask because things haven’t started to look up now that the Cubs have new owners.  In fact, they may even be in a worse situation than before, which is hard to believe.

Timothy DeBlock: I’m hesitant to say a change of ownership is a good thing. I think Drayton has done some good things for the organization, but has also gotten in his own way at times. He supposedly has learned from his mistakes and is now willing to allow the organization to rebuild. New ownership is bound to make changes, which could be a good thing or a bad thing in terms of which way the organization heads. A lot of fans seem to be excited about new ownership coming in, but I’m not so sure because the grass always looks greener on the other side.

Obstructed View: It appears to me less material is published about the Astros than any NL Central team. Is that because the team has been expected to be poor over the last 2 to 3 years or is there some other reason?

Timothy DeBlock: The expectations of the club certainly play in a part in it, but also the lack of star power coming from the farm system and free agent market. Hunter Pence was the last blue chip prospect to come out of the farm system back in 2007, and even he has underperformed expectations. Before that it was Roy Oswalt, and now it’s Jordan Lyles who’s largely considered to be a mid rotation starter. The farm system is getting better, but it’s going to be some time before more ink is spent on the Astros. As for the free agent market, the Astros have tended to shy away from a big signing, but then when they do make a big signing it’s for a career .800 OPS outfielder who should probably be playing first or DHing.

Obstructed View: Wandy Rodriguez is probably the most underrated pitcher in baseball. Since 2008 he has the 17th best ERA among starters with 300 or more innings. His FIP is in the top 20. That’s better than Jered Weaver, Francisco Liriano, Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy. It’s only slightly worse than Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Yovanni Gallardo. What does Rodriguez have to do to get noticed?

Timothy DeBlock: It is a bit of a head scratcher he’s underrated by most Houston fans as well, largely due to his perceived inconsistency. Which is based on the gap in his home/road splits. He pitches like an ace at home, and a back end of the rotation starter on the road. Fans put more potential on him even though he’s already a very good pitcher posting a mid 3 ERA the last three years.

Obstructed View: Are the Astros going to contend?  What has to happen for them to be in that position?

Timothy DeBlock: The Astros will not contend this year. Any hope of that faded with the injuries to Jason Castro and now Clint Barmes. I think I heard the Astros are moving Michael Bourn to a hyperberic chamber and not opening it until the season begins. If the Astros were to contend one the injuries have to stop, but that’s league wide, most teams who make the playoffs avoid injuries. The defense would have to improve, but for that to happen Carlos Lee has to be moved out of the outfield to first. An unlikely scenario with the way Brett Wallace is hitting this spring. The pitching will keep the Astros in games, but has question marks with J.A. Happ and Bud Norris, and lacks a dominate reliever in the bullpen. Finally the offense would have to not be horrendous, which may be problematic for a team that struggles to take walks.

Obstructed View: How do you think the NL Central ends up 2011?

Timothy DeBlock: I know the Cardinals have the percentages, even with the loss of Adam Wainwright, but I like the Reds I think they’re the most well rounded. It’ll be a toss up between the Cardinals and Brewers for second, but I slightly like the Brewers and look forward to seeing Zach Greinke pitch. As this point I’m just going to be biased and say the Astros finish fourth, followed by the Cubs, and Pirates. Although I can see the Cubs ahead of the Astros. The Pirates could make a run for fourth or fifth, but that would require something like a 20 game turn around from 2010, and I just don’t think they’ve made enough moves to accomplish that.