added 1/23/2011 by Bob Hulsey
It's always risky to prejudge a baseball schedule before the season starts. Nobody knows which teams will be hit by injuries or find a hot player or two that turns a weakness into a strength. One need only look at last year's San Diego Padres or the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays to see how wrong baseball forecasting can be.
Nonetheless, there are trends to every season and the Astros' 2011 season appears to have some predictable peaks and valleys. The interleague portion shows them few favors while the relatively weak NL Central allows them chances to move up in the standings.
For a young club like the Astros, the development of rookies will tell part of the story and the progress in molding a solid pitching staff will be another. Despite adding notorious first-half players Clint Barmes and Bill Hall, expect the Astros to be slow starters again this year but, hopefully, to come on strong after the All-Star Break.
Home games: 15 (FLA, CHC, SD, STL, MIL)
Road games: 12 (PHI, CIN, NYM, MIL)
The season begins in brutal fashion with six road games against division champions. They also get an unlucky break playing three against the Mets before their high-salary players go down to injuries. The home dates have the potential to see the Astros make some ground. All of the home opponents are good clubs but not great ones and the Padres will have trouble scoring runs with Adrian Gonzalez out of their lineup. Lance Berkman returns as a Cardinal late in the month which will probably be an awkward time for Houston fans and possibly for Lance as well.
April prediction: 11-16
Home games: 13 (MIL, CIN, NYM, LA, ARI)
Road games: 15 (CIN, PIT, ATL, STL, TOR)
A swing through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should give the Astros time to assess where they are. The second road trip of May will be the most unusual with brief two-game stops in Atlanta and St. Louis before flying north of the border to Toronto. Back home, the Astros head into Memorial Day with three-game sets against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, who always give us more trouble than expected because of their players with Houston connections.
May prediction: 12-16
Home games: 16 (STL, ATL, PIT, TAM, TEX)
Road games: 11 (CHC, SD, LAD, TEX)
Given the home-road disparity, this ought to be a good month featuring two of their longest homestands of the season. We catch a break getting four of the season's six games against the Braves at home. Be wary of the interleague part of the schedule, though, with six games against the American League Champion Rangers (yeah, that felt funny saying that), three home dates against Tampa Bay and three against the Red Sox to begin July. Why can't we play the Royals every year?
June prediction: 14-13
Home games: 9 (BOS, PIT, WSH)
Road games: 17 (PIT, FLA, CHC, STL, MIL)
I'm all in favor of keeping the roof open for the three-game series against the BoSox, knowing that the seats will be stuffed with transplanted yankees. Let them see their beloved Sawx melt in 95-degree heat and 95 percent humidity. Later, the Astros get their best chance to sweep a homestand when they resume from a four-game All-Star Break with three-game sets against the Pirates and Nationals. Mills' boys will need to keep their bags packed for the longest road trip of the year but, fortunately, none of the road opponents are the type that say "sweep" to me and the Astros ought to be starting their second-half surge.
July prediction: 15-11
Home games: 15 (CIN, MIL, CHC, SF, PIT)
Road games: 14 (ARI, LA, COL, SF)
The home dates feature the predictable NL Central foes and the World Champion Giants. The road slate will be a pair of seven-game trips to the West Coast. Pacific swings used to be a deathknell for Astros hopes but it has been better in the past few years. Clint Barmes returns to Colorado for what may seem a bittersweet reunion. Expect the Astros to be hitting on all cylinders by then.
August prediction: 16-11
Home games: 13 (MIL, PHI, COL, STL)
Road games: 12 (PIT, WSH, CHC, CIN)
Hard to know if the Astros will still be in any sort of playoff hunt but they will have their chances to affect the pennant races with sets against the Phillies, Reds and Cardinals during the final weeks. A road trip to Pittsburgh and Washington ought to mark the high point of the campaign in terms of won-loss record before the season winds down with a final seven-game homestand against Colorado and St. Louis. By then, we may see a new owner, some new teammates and a clearer picture of what needs an upgrade as we build for 2012.
September record: 15-10
Overall record: 83-79
Put it all together and you have a team that will get to .500 and perhaps be on the fringe of wild card contention but unlikely to smell the postseason for another year as the transition from the Killer B's era continues into the new decade.