Astros open their 50th season against the Colorado Rockies

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Astros catcher Jason Castro is finally healthy and ready to contribute in Houston.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Opening day is upon us and the Houston Astros will be celebrating their 50th anniversary when they take on the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at Minute Maid Park.

Last season the Astros went 56-106 and finished last in the National League.

The Astros have named five pitchers to the opening rotation.

Left handers Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, along with right hander Bud Norris, return from last season’s main rotation. Rodriguez and Norris will serve as the backbone of the pitching staff.

Last season Rodriguez turned in a season ERA of 3.49 with 7.82 strikes and 3.25 walks per nine innings pitched. He also pitched an impressive 191 innings last season which should help keep the bullpen fresh. Rodriguez is also the only player or coach who remains from the Astro’s 2005 World Series squad.

Norris’s fastball has helped keep him in the starting position, and while it has slowed to around 93 mph, his control in the past two seasons has kept it effective. He turned in a 3.77 ERA last season.

Happ did not have an impressive 2011 season. Late in the season, Happ was demoted to the Astro’s triple A affiliate Oklahoma City RedHawks. He posted a 5.35 ERA in 2011 and his offseason performance has coaches hoping he will return to his 2009 or 2010 form where he achieved ERAs of 2.93 and 3.40, respectively. Happ is 1-1 in 2012 spring training games.

Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell are the new faces on the mound at the start of this season. Both had ERAs below 4.00 in their respective minor league career. Weiland has posted a 2-1 spring training record this season with a 3.75 ERA. As a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2011, Weiland had a 0-3 record on the mound, giving up 22 runs with 13 strikeouts.

Harrell pitched three games for the Chicago White Sox over two seasons. He posted a 1-2 record for the Sox with a 4.71 ERA. Despite injuries, Harrell makes up for his lack of a fast ball with his powerful sinker.

Last season’s pitching staff ranked 15th in walks given up and 14th in hits given up and owned a team ERA of 4.55, lowest in the National League.

The two most productive hitters on the roster last season, outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, both were traded at the end of the season. Jason Bourgeois returns to the 2012 Astros with the highest batting average from 2011 which was .294.

The offense as a whole scored 615 runs, less than the major league average of 694, and was the second straight season under 700. Only four teams had less production at the plate.

Despite this dismal statistic, the 2011 Astros looked pretty good on paper. They ranked first in the NL in doubles, fourth in batting average, and third in total hits. However, they also ranked 15th (out of 16) in home runs and 13th in runs scored. The lack of runs is what hurt last season’s squad.

In the offseason, the Astros only traded out and not in, as far as hitters go. First baseman Carlos Lee will return to the plate as the anchor of the Astro’s struggling line up. Lee finished with a .275 batting average, a team-high 18 home runs, and a team-high 94 RBIs.

Right fielder Brian Bogusevic is also expected to help Lee out at the plate. The former pitcher hit .287 in 2011, but Bogusevic is inconsistent at best against left-handed pitchers.

In addition to trading their top hitters, the Astros also traded their fastest base runners. In 105 games, Bourn stole 39 bases and, after being traded to Atlanta, went on to finish the league with the highest number of stolen bases.

Outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who was second on the team in stolen bases, was traded to the Royals in the offseason.

They are expected to finish about the same in 2012 as they did in 2011 due to the lack of incoming talent.

The 2011 season was the first in franchise history where a squad lost more than 100 games, a statistic that most want to forget. Hopefully the offseason was enough to start the rebuilding process for the Astros as they play their last year in the National League.