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Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare: St. Louis CardinalsCincinnati RedsMilwaukee BrewersPittsburgh PiratesHouston Astros.

The 2011 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.

So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting to simply examine/invent why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2011. Of course, had I anticipated the 2010 success of many NL Central teams, coupled with various excellent off-season moves, I may not have tied myself to such a cantankerous exercise. Let’s just say, establishing that the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals are going to suck in 2011 is not an easy enterprise. But this is the life I have chosen, so live it I must.

We’ve already previewed the suckiness of the Cincinnati Reds, and thankfully this week provides a respite: the Houston Astros. Their suckiness almost writes itself.

Baseline for Suckitude

The Astros finished 76-86 last year (after going 74-88 the year before), good enough for fourth place in the NL Central (*cough* a game ahead of the Cubs *cough*). They were 15 games out of first, and were never really in the race.

Last year, we had this to say:

There was a time in the not so distant past that coming up with reasons why the Houston Astros will suck would have proved a difficult proposition. But gone are the days of Biggio and Bagwell and Kent and Clemens and Pettitte. The Astros are an aging, expensive ballclub – not unlike the Cubs. Carlos Lee is set to turn 34 soon, and his salary has exploded to nearly $20 million. Lance Berkman is still a very good hitter, but is not the hitter he once was. And he too is now 34. Even Roy Oswalt, who perpetually seems like a kid, will be turning 33 this season.

The whole team isn’t old, of course, but much of the chunk that isn’t old is inexperienced. They’re hoping a youngster can take over and hold things down both at shortstop AND catcher, the two most important positions on the diamond.

Berkman and Oswalt are now gone, and neither the young shortstop (Tommy Manzella) nor the young catcher (Jason Castro) did anything worth remembering. And the Astros are relying on the development of youth once again. The Baseline for Suckitude is looking like it won’t move particularly far gain this year.

Sucky Offseason Moves

Sad Arrivals: 2B Bill Hall (free agent), SS Clint Barmes (trade with Rockies), LHP Sergio Escalona (trade with Phillies).

Happy Departures: INF Geoff Blum (free agent, signed with Diamondbacks), RHP Felipe Paulino (traded to Rockies), RHP Matt Lindstrom (traded to Rockies), LHP Tim Byrdak (free agent, signed minor league deal with Mets).

The saving grace for not improving much over the offseason? Not losing much.

Speaking of saving grace, Clint Barmes. That is to say that Clint Barmes is not the saving grace. Of anything.

Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck

Using ethereal and evocative imagery about Spring baseball to mask the obvious deficiencies in your club, while pleasant to read, does little to inspire confidence.

So it is with Astros blog the Crawfish Boxes:

Spring Training is here. With it comes imagery of sun filled blue skies, fresh cut green grass, and a new outlook on baseball. It’s true that it may be a rough year for Astro fans, two icons are gone, in are some fresh new faces with their own faults to overcome, and an impending sale, almost assure us that we shouldn’t get our hopes up. But as the snow smelts, beginning the process of packing up the winter clothes, and pulling out that old baseball jersey, that seems to of held onto that mustard stain you thought you got out, we can’t help but find that small glimmer of hope.

Wistful language is the mark of desperate fan believe me. I know. As for that glimmer of hope, it’s belied by the very next sentence:

The Astros did not make any sexy moves this offseason. However they did make some moves

The Houston Astros will not be a great baseball team in 2011. However they will be a baseball team.

The Suckiest Part of Their Suck

The lineup. It’s terrible. Of the projected starters, just one – ONE – had an OPS over .800 last year. That was third baseman Chris Johnson,who did it in just over a half of a season. Even Astro mainstays like Hunter Pence (underperformed) and Carlos Lee (God awful) were disappointing. Even the lone bright spot, All-Star Michael Bourn, wasn’t really all that good – sure, the .341 OBP is nice, but pair it with a meager .346 SLG and a .265 BA, and it doesn’t smell so sweet.

Thus, it won’t surprise you to learn that the 2010 Astros were 28th in runs scored and 29th in team OPS last year. And, if it’s possible, the lineup looks even worse this year. With apologies, the additions of Clint Barmes and Bill Hall do very little to excite.

And in the End

They suck.

The Astros have, in recent memory, found the gumption to surprise. Late season surges built on the backs of resurgent vets and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of have become commonplace. But such a surge seems more than unlikely this year.

The Astros are hoping that a young positional player can establish himself at each of first base (Brett Wallach), third base (Chris Johnson), and catcher (was supposed to be Jason Castro until he went down for the year; now Humberto Quintero will take the reigns). They won’t. And the Astros are hoping that guys like Bill Hall and Carlos Lee aren’t completely gassed. They are.

Setting aside the abysmal lineup, the pitching isn’t what it once was. Roy Oswalt is gone. Wandy Rodriguez is maddeningly inconsistent (put it this way, as a Cubs fan, the thought of facing Wandy is not exactly imposing). Brett Myers has a history of falling apart. JA Happ was barely above league average after coming over in the Oswalt deal. And the bullpen; oh the bullpen. After Brandon Lyon, there is a crew of about 15 lost souls hoping to be given the opportunity to take the ball and not piss themselves every other day. I’ll be the first to admit that solid bullpens have come from worse, but counting on it is far from a good idea.

I usually like to wrap these little ditties up with some hopeful words (before reverting back to the suck), you know, for teams other than the Pirates. But there are no saving words here. There are no “ifs” and “maybes,” no delicate words maneuvered just so. This is a team with significant problems. Even if each pitcher performs at his highest level, it’s impossible to see this lineup, as constructed, scoring enough runs to compete, particularly in an improved division.

So, in the end, how’s this for delicate? They suck.

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