03/28/08 10:00 AM ET
Astros counting on new-look lineup
Manager Cooper excited by team's offensive potential
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
A handful of other players were on the Astros' roster for all or a portion of last year, but for the most part, the makeup of this year's offense is much different. More importantly, it's better -- this lineup is potentially the team's best since 2004.
The projected order of players has changed a half-dozen times since Spring Training started, but it appears manager Cecil Cooper has settled on the middle of his order. Berkman will hit third, Lee fourth and Miguel Tejada fifth, with Hunter Pence either sliding into the two-hole or six-hole, although Cooper is leaning toward Pence hitting second on Opening Day.
"I like it a lot," Cooper said of his lineup. "I really like it a lot."
And who can blame him? Cooper's biggest problem this spring, offensively speaking, was that he had too many No. 3 and No. 4 hitters and not enough spots for everyone. He tried inserting Lee into the five-hole, with Berkman hitting fourth and Tejada hitting third, but Lee's 0-for-6 streak as the No. 5 hitter early in March quickly ended that experiment.
Berkman clearly is comfortable hitting third or fourth, and Tejada expressed his approval of hitting fifth. Ideally, Berkman's left-handed bat would be inserted between the two right-handed hitters, but it's not a necessity.
"I think we definitely have the capabilities to score a lot of runs," Berkman said. "We can score runs in a lot of different ways. We've got some speed at the top, we've got a lot of power in the lineup. Offensively, I think we're in good shape."
The middle of the order isn't the only bright spot. Astros camp has been buzzing with excitement over the club's new leadoff hitter, Michael Bourn, who put together a spectacular spring showing. He displayed a blend of power and speed, and he surprised management with patience at the plate that few young players possess when they're just getting started in their careers. Heading into the final days of spring games, Bourn was tied for the team lead in walks.
When general manager Ed Wade traded for Bourn last November, he was comfortable with the young outfielder's capabilities. But even the GM admitted he was surprised with Bourn's production this spring, and expressed as much during a recent meeting with the club's new leadoff hitter.
"I only had conversations with a few players all spring, but I wanted to tell him that what he's done not only has met our expectations, but exceeded them," Wade said. "He just needs to remember that it's the same game in Houston. He just needs to play like he did here."
Wade advised Bourn, a Houston native, not to get caught up in the "hometown guy" pressure or worry about being a catalyst of the club.
Bourn, who has only 127 career Major League at-bats, has already gained the respect of many of his new Astros teammates.
"I've been extremely impressed with him," Berkman said. "In fact, I've been the most impressed with him of anybody in camp. He was an unknown commodity and he looks great at the plate. He's done well defensively. He's obviously really fast. I love his makeup. I think we've got a great player.
"He's a young guy. He's going to be around a while. I'm very excited to see how he's going to do in a full season."
HOU: RHP Roy Oswalt (14-7, 3.18 ERA in 2007)
Oswalt will make his team-record sixth consecutive Opening Day start when he takes the mound at PETCO Park on March 31. Since joining the Major Leagues in 2001, Oswalt leads all pitchers with 112 wins. He is second in the Majors in wins since 2004 with 69, behind only Johan Santana, who has won 70 over the same time span. Oswalt has won at least 14 games in each of the last four seasons, including consecutive 20-win seasons in 2004 and '05.
SD: RHP Jake Peavy (19-6, 2.54 ERA in 2007)
The unanimous selection for the NL CY Young Award in 2007, Peavy led the Majors with a 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts, recording a National League-best 19 wins in his 34 starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the second pitcher in the last 22 years to lead the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season, joining Randy Johnson (2002).
When new Padres outfielder Jim Edmonds played for the Cardinals, few opposing players had more success against Astros pitchers. The center fielder has a .294 career average versus Houston, logging 26 home runs and 81 RBIs in 385 at-bats. In 2007, however, Edmonds didn't do much against the Astros, hitting .135 over 14 games (5-for-37) with one home run and two RBIs.
KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)
Tuesday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 3-1, 3.77) at Padres (Chris Young, 9-8, 3.12), 9:05 p.m. CT
Wednesday: Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 9-13, 4.58) at Padres (Greg Maddux, 14-11, 4.14), 9:05 p.m. CT
Thursday: Astros (Shawn Chacon, 5-4, 3.94) at Padres (Randy Wolf, 9-6, 4.73), 2:35 p.m. CT
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.