added 4/2/2010 by Bob Hulsey
Most predictions are worth what you paid for them, unless you subscribed to get them. Then they are probably worth less. Last year at this time, the popular choice to win the National League Central was the Chicago Cubs. Some even thought 2009 was the year the Cubs would solve their 100-year championship drought. Didn't happen, did it?
Before 2008, nobody foresaw the Tampa Bay Rays making the playoffs or reaching the World Series. Ditto the Colorado Rockies in 2007.
So, I'm really not worried that some predict the cellar for the 2010 Astros. They thought the same of the 1986 Astros before that season began. We all know what happened there.
There's no easy blueprint to predicting a six-month baseball season no matter how many simulations are used. Players will get injured or underperform. Other players will post career years. Few teams will get what they hoped from out of their entire pitching staff. A few will fail spectacularly.
Who? Can't tell you. That's why they play the game.
Perhaps Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino put it all together and the Astros rotation far exceeds expectations. Or perhaps Roy Oswalt and Brett Myers will face nagging injuries all year and patch 15 wins between the two of them.
Perhaps J.R. Towles and Tommy Manzella jump out and make the Astros a lethal lineup from top to bottom. Or perhaps Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence backslide from their success of last year and runs become amazingly scarce at Minute Maid this year.
Perhaps Brad Mills injects such enthusiasm into the club that they play well about their heads. Or perhaps Mills will suffer the fate of most rookie managers, exposed as one more button-pusher who will get outfoxed by Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker.
As April begins, nobody knows.
Predictions are fun though. So, for what you've paid for them, here are my predictions for the 2010 season:
National League Central Champions: Milwaukee Brewers. Everyone and their crazy aunt is predicting St. Louis which is my only reason to believe it won't happen. The Cardinals have great, if fragile, pitching as well as a 1-2 punch of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday.
But if anyone can hang with them, I predict the Brewers will. They paid attention to what Ed Wade did in 2008 and signed both Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins in free agency to add to Yovani Gallardo and Trevor Hoffman. They won't need to pitch that well with sluggers like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun slugging homers all over Miller Park.
Why not the Cubs? Because they're a year older and a year crankier. They look a lot like the 2006 Astros minus a Craig Biggio to root for.
National League Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers. They have the talent to dominate and the money to make late additions to put them over the top. The Phillies will have a tough time "three-peating" (the Braves will give them a challenge) but they are the next best competition out there and I expect them to repeat as Eastern Division champions. I think San Francisco will take the wild card.
World Champions: New York Yankees. The rich get richer but Joe Torre will make them work for it in the Fall Classic in a Series that will have the media reminiscing about past Yankee-Dodger classics.
Astros Record: 78-84. An improvement over last year but not a winning formula yet. Of course, they might also get worse, particularly if Lance Berkman is hobbled all year.
Most Improved Astro: Felipe Paulino. New pitching coach Brad Arnsberg loves his stuff and thinks he can get Paulino to reach his potential. We could certainly use it.
Most Disappointing Astro: Brandon Lyon. I hate to put the jinx on anyone but he's off to a bad start with a big contract then shoulder surgery. I hope I'm wrong but I think he's going to struggle to find his groove.
Most Surprising Astro: Matt Lindstrom. He steps into the closer void and saves 30+ games, causing fantasy players to fall all over themselves trying to add him to their rosters.
Oh, and one more prediction: Drayton McLane will have a buyer lined up for the Astros by this time next year.
But whatever happens, 2010 will be an interesting ride, whether we take a step forward or a step backward from the year before. No, I don't think we are likely to make a playoff run this year but we'll end up a year closer to seeing some top farm prospects bubbling to the surface that will be our stars in the coming decade.
Patience, my friends. That should be our motto for the coming season.