Spring Snapshot: Mills does best to keep Astros competing

Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Osceola County, near Disney World, where none of the Astros dreams probably will come true this season.


2010 RECORD: 76-86, fourth in NL Central.

BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: Infielders Clint Barmes(notes) and Bill Hall(notes), pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith(notes). Yep.

BIGGEST DEPARTURES: Matt Lindstrom(notes) led the team in saves, but he also was either injured or pitched poorly or both. Also gone is Tim Byrdak(notes), who was, as usual, tough on lefties. And before anybody goes "You forgot Roy Oswalt(notes)!" that departure came last year.


1. How on Earth did this team go 76-86 last year? It must be a testament to manager Brad Mills(notes), who had to have kept them focused and optimistic enough to squeeze every possible victory from a sad-looking roster. Either that, or the Astros' opponents took them for granted down the stretch.

2. Is there any chance of them winning at least 76 again? Someday? Sure. But in 2011?

Stranger things have happened, but it's doubtful. If 34-year-old Carlos Lee(notes) reverts to his 2007-08 form, and Chris Johnson(notes) amplifies on his breakthrough 2010, and Hunter Pence(notes) develops and Brett Wallace(notes) goes boom ... They have some decent starting pitching, including Brett Myers(notes), Wandy Rodriguez(notes), J.A. Happ(notes), Nelson Figueroa(notes), Bud Norris(notes) and Rowland-Smith. (But it's not like we're talking about the Phillies rotation. Maybe the ex-Phillies rotation.) If the NL Central has a down year, they could sneak into the high 70s in wins. They'll probably come close to 100 losses, as the Stew's Alex Remington predicted in January. I wonder if they'd win more games with Craig Biggio at second base. Heck, call him up, see if he's available.

3. Does Drayton McLane still own the team? Yes, though he has put them up for sale. The big league roster is a mess, despite GM Ed Wade's best attempt to bring in everyone who has ever played for the Philadelphia Phillies (where he used to work). The minor league system was placed last by Fangraphs in their 2010 rankings, so they've got a long way to go before we see signs of improvement.

4. Really? No reinforcements from the minors? Right-hander Jordan Lyles(notes) probably reaches the majors sometime this season, and outfielder J.D. Martinez won the MVP in the South Atlantic League and then hit well after a promotion to Class AA. He's been impressive at times in spring training. It might be years before anyone else — Delino DeShields Jr.? — is in position to help rescue the 'Stros.

5. Is Figueroa going to get a real, legit chance to make the rotation? He is one of the many ex-Phillies hanging around to make Wade feel comfortable, but it would be a nice story if Figueroa — who turns 37 in May — finally broke camp with a team, in a rotation, and was able to start 30 times. He's past due for an opportunity.

Follow Dave throughout spring training on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and check out the Stew on Facebook for more coverage.

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