Houston Astros 2011 Season Preview: The Worst Case Scenarios

On Monday, we looked at the best case scenario for the Astros in 2011. Now, we take a look at the worst case scenario. Obviously, the worst case scenarios will fall along the same lines as Monday. Not making the playoffs is not the worst case scenario, failing to take another step forward in the rebuilding process would. And boy are the Astros already off to a rip-roaring start.

If this article had been done a month ago, Jason Castro getting injured would have certainly been on the list as a worst case scenario. Since that check mark has been made, it's time to look at some of the other things that could go wrong.

The pitching becomes the weakness of the Astros: Make no bones about it,  if the Astros are going to compete this season it's going to be because of the starting rotation. By that same token, if the Astros are going to only win 67 games this season it's also going to be because of the pitching rotation. This could be caused by injuries or simple ineffectiveness. Duh, I know.

Brett Myers was a wonderful story last year, but is hardly a model of consistency. On the other hand, Wandy Rodriguez is a model of consistency, despite what his home/road splits say, but you have to wonder if 2009 was his peak and he's on the downward slope of his career. The other shoe drops for J.A. Happ as advanced statistics have been predicting. Bud Norris continues to struggle to develop. As for Nelson Figueroa... well, this is his first year going into a season with a guaranteed contract, and he's 37, which leads to another point. Norris is the youngest pitcher of the group, and he'll turn 26 this season.

I'm sure all of you are smart enough to also figure out that if the rotation isn't pitching well, the return on any trades would be less than ideal.

If the rotation does start to fall apart, the Astros will have to turn to Aneury Rodriguez, and Jordan Lyles, both pitchers still in the development process of their careers. As exciting as the prospect of seeing Lyles is, starting his Major League time and innings is something the Astros want to avoid both for his own well being and the organizations future success.

I know Lyles opened some eyes wide this Spring, but he still struggled when he was promoted to Triple-A. It would be absolutely detrimental to the organization if Lyles continues to struggle in Triple-A or worse, if he gets injured. It seems unlikely, but wouldn't be the first time. It's fair to say that there will always be surprises in the minors, but there's also disappointments as well (Jiovanni Mier being exhibit A).

With the recent news of Jim Crane being the front runner to own the Astros, I began worrying what kind of impact he'd make if the team were sold before the draft. Common sense would dictate that you leave the current front office in place for the draft, but I worry how much influence Crane or another owner would want to have this year. This could cause upheaval in the front office and an unwise decision with the No. 11 selection on June 6.

Speaking of the front office, is Ed Wade making moves for the future success of the team, or so he can save his job? A new owner comes with big question marks for all those in the front office. Taking an eye off the rebuilding process could set the organization back a few years.

Back on the Major League side of things, questions abound. Questions that can easily be answered with the worst possible answer. Offensively the Astros continue to struggle. Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee are the only two legit above average offensive players on the team. Lee's defense already negates what he does on offense, so if Pence were to struggle or get injured, this offense could be in some serious trouble. There is some potential from the young players, but J.R. Towles could continue to look overmatched. Brett Wallace's spring numbers could be subject to the small sample size caveat. Chris Johnson could regress further than we expect of him. The offense could be the surprise of the season, or it could negate everything good the pitching staff does.

Everyone already knows about the gaping hole in the defense down the left field line, if the right side falters it could be a very frustrating season for Astro pitchers. The way the team is constructed, the Astro pitchers will be relying a lot on the defense. The injuries to both Clint Barmes and Castro are already going to have a negative effect on the defense, but if Bill Hall doesn't get accustomed to second base or Hunter Pence continues his slide defensively, we could see an already below average defense become even worse.

Finally, everyone's favorite Ed Wade's obsession, the bullpen. The Astros have few if any dominate relievers in the bullpen. However there is potential with guys like Wilton Lopez and Mark Melancon, the problem is the bullpen has had a problem staying healthy the last few years (see: Alberto Arias, Sammy Gervacio, Matt Lindstrom). Combine that with the random success relievers have year to year, and the bullpen is a crap shoot.

No surprise, the worst case scenario for the Astro would be for the team to take a step back in its push to rebuild. Whether it's the front office personnel trying to justify their job, injuries or ineffectiveness, this is another crucial year  for the organization in it's push back to relevancy.

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