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How the Astros Can Make Lemonade in 2010

DQ wrote a great post last Thursday about what could go wrong with the Astros in 2010. We had originally discussed writing two companion pieces as 'season outlooks,' one positive and one negative. He jumped on the grenade that was the negative approach and clack wrote an excellent positive article, giving us a nice perspective on the 2010 season.

What I want to do here is a little different. As clack talked about in his comment on DQ's post, there are ways in which bad things can happen to the Astros in 2010 but still have good outcomes. That's what I'm setting up here: five potentially damaging scenarios and how the Astros can turn them into advantages. Heck, they may even be able to use them to fuel a contender.

Scenario 1 -- Roy Oswalt is injured: Yes, this would be every bit as damaging as DQ laid out. What if it didn't mean Brian Moehler picked up his slack, however? I linked to a story on Thursday about Farmstro Fernando Abad being a darkhorse rotation candidate this spring. What if the Astros moved him into the starting rotation with this kind of scenario in mind? Abad does many things that transition well to the majors. He has great control and doesn't give up many home runs. He's also a 'crafty' left-hander, which gives some added balance to the rotation.

What if the addition of Abad works like Dontrelle Willis' meteoric rise in 2003? Let's say Abad slaps up a line of 3.50 ERA, 120 innings, 100 strikeouts and 30 walks. Those numbers are right in line with his minor league performance. In fact, his walk total is higher than the last couple seasons at Lexington, Lancaster and Corpus. Even the increase in innings pitched isn't outrageous, as it would only be 30 or so over his 2009 total.

It would make one heck of a good story, no?

Scenario 2 -- Brandon Lyon misses the season: This would probably tax the back of the bullpen quite a bit. If he or Lindstrom went down, the Astros would be left struggling for options. Good thing they have a couple of cracker-jack relievers down in the minors, right?

Best case here is either Chia-jen Lo, Daniel Meszaros or even sleeper candidates like Michael Schurz or Ashton Mowdy make a jump to the big leagues. All four have the stuff to be late-inning closers. All four could be ready in a hurry, as Meszaros, Schurz and Mowdy all have extensive college experience and Lo has pitched for his national team. Plus, we're only talking about filling in for 50 innings, tops. If Lyon is slated to close games, he's not pitching any more than that. If both of them go down, there's always guys like Wesley Wright, Matt Nevarez, Henry Villar, Evan Englebrook and Wilton Lopez who could fill the gaps. Lest we forget, Slammin' Sammy Gervacio could easily fill those Lyon innings with or without an injury.

While having a solid bullpen could be a cornerstone of this team, relievers are definitely its most fungible part. With the quality of arms waiting in the wings and Ed Wade's penchant for finding good ones anywhere, I think even a worst case scenario in the bullpen will work out just fine. 

Scenario 3 -- Tommy Manzella is ineffective; Kaz Matsui is hurt: One of two things happens here: Wladimir Sutil gets called up and does a yeoman's job or the Astros make a trade. Jeff Keppinger gets pressed into service for a while, but I'm sure Brad Mills wants him on the bench, not as an everyday guy.

Sutil is who he says he is. With great range and a solid arm, Sutil plays good defense at short. He also has experience at second and third base, so he could easily slot into Kepp's bench role if needed. You're probably only going to get a line like .250/.320/.320 out of him because he has absolutely no power. He doesn't strike out much and takes his share of walks. Overall, he's every bit the player Edwin Maysonet is and could have a higher ceiling.

Imagine both of them manning the middle of the infield? I guarantee their production would just about equal what Manzella and Matsui would produce together if healthy. If nothing else, the Astros play a zero-sum game here and are no worse off than before this scenario happens.

Scenario 4 -- Carlos Lee is injured: Losing our cleanup hitter would be devastating. DQ didn't even get around to mentioning this. Lee provides protection for Berkman and clogs the bases ahead of Pence, meaning Hunter can't steal bases willy-nilly. Both are equally important roles.

What happens if he goes down? Most likely, Jason Michaels slides into his every day role. What if Collin DeLome get the call? The Buna native has prodigious power but strikes out a ton. He's more athletic than Lee and could combine with Bourn and Pence for the rangiest Astros outfield since Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Eric Anthony.

DeLome has enough power to protect Pence and Berkman in the five hole, but is probably best suited for the sixth spot. Bumping Pence and Feliz up a notch would take away power behind Berkman, but might raise the OBP just a tad. Overall, it might not damage the offense as much as you think.

Just think: if DeLome really gets into a groove early in major league time, he could make quite a splash. Home run hitters always get noticed. If he hits five in two weeks, how much confidence would that give the Astros? How much defensive value does he provide over Carlos?

If it happens, it'd be disappointing. More than any other position, though, the Astros are prepared for this.

Scenario 5 -- Young pitchers (Norris, Paulino, Arias, Fulchino) don't pan out: Talk about disappointing. A Bud Norris/Felipe Paulino collapse could be just as damaging for our collective fan psyche as if Nolan Ryan had left for the Yankees or Braves or something. And yet...

What if the Astros saw something like this on the horizon and traded a guy like Luis Cruz or Villar for Toronto's Dustin McGowan? The Astros automatically get a pitcher with major league experience who pitching coach Brad Arnsberg is familiar with. If he cuts down on his walks a bit, McGowan is every bit the third starter. As it is, I'd take a 4.00 ERA in 160 innings in the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Since he' s out of options, McGowan wouldn't cost as much as you'd think.

While this situation would be disappointing for the young guys, it is exactly the kind of thing that Gerry Hunsicker used to do. These shrewd little under the radar trades in spring training for guys like Billy Spiers, Mike Lamb and Brandon Backe can pay off in a big, and unexpected, way. Wade has shown tentative signs of doing this in the past couple seasons, but this season could prove it beyond a doubt.

I wrote this article pretty quickly, not because I didn't put enough time into it. Instead, it was just easy to envision these scenarios. After all, every baseball team has these lucky bounces during the season. Guys like Ben Zobrist appear out of nowhere to save a season. The Astros haven't had any luck in this department the past couple of seasons. With a couple feel-good stories, I could definitely see them flirting with .500 and a wild card berth come August. Of course, it's also the spring and everyone knows that Hope Springs Eternal. I just hope my optimism will stand the test of the next six months.