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Astros lose 100 games, but future promising

Astros lose 100 games, but future promising

Astros lose 100 games, but future promising
HOUSTON -- For the second year in a row, the Astros bid adieu to two of their best players at the Trade Deadline, when popular outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn were sent to contenders in exchange for a bevy of young players.

The Astros continued to try to restock their once-barren farm system for the future, but it led to some new depths on the field.

With 10 players making their Major League debut for the Astros at some point during the season -- and with rookie starters getting the bulk of the playing time at third base (Jimmy Paredes), left field (J.D. Martinez) and second base (Jose Altuve) in the second half -- the Astros suffered their first-ever 100-loss season.

"We hope there were several steps forward from an individual standpoint towards what our goal is, which is to get good for the long term," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "To characterize any season in which you lose 100 as a step forward in any other fashion would be delusional on my part. But at the same time, we furthered the process with what we're trying to do towards the ultimate goal, as painful as it's been."

The Astros lost starting catcher Jason Castro before the season even began, when he tore up his right knee during Spring Training and wound up having reconstructive surgery. Things didn't get much better when the games started to count.

Houston's starting pitching, which was one of the reasons the club finished strong in 2010, was a disappointment this year. Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris each posted double-digit losses, with all but Rodriguez setting or tying a career high in losses.

Jordan Lyles (More | ), the team's top Minor League prospect, was thrust into the rotation at 20 years old and handled himself well for 15 starts before being pulled from the rotation because of concerns about his workload.

Brett Wallace, who took over as a rookie at first base last year after Lance Berkman was traded, got off to a quick start but was sent to the Minor Leagues at the end of July, along with Opening Day starting third baseman Chris Johnson, who couldn't duplicate his success of a year ago.

The offense was also hampered by another slow start at the plate from Carlos Lee. The Astros finished among the top five teams in the National League in batting average, but their production with runners in scoring position was a year-long issue.

The bullpen, which was mostly populated by rookies, was among the worst in baseball -- especially in the first half -- when blown saves were more common than converted saves.

Rookies like Paredes, Martinez, Altuve and starting pitcher Henry Sosa were the club's focus in the second half of the year, following the trades of Pence (More | ) and Bourn. Paredes, Martinez and Altuve made immediate impacts, with Martinez driving in 28 runs in August.

Astros manager Brad Mills certainly didn't enjoy becoming the first Astros manager to lose 100 games, but along the way he gained some confidence about what the future may hold.

"The situation we have gone through from Spring Training to now, we've been able to answer a lot of questions," Mills said. "We were able to see a lot of the players we had in camp -- Altuve, Paredes, Martinez, Wesley Wright, Jordan Lyles -- to come up and continue to improve. Hopefully this continues to be a learning process for everyone."

Record: 56-106, last in NL Central.

Defining moment: How about Opening Day? The Astros were cruising along with a 4-2 lead against Roy Halladay heading into the ninth inning in Philadelphia when the Phillies rallied against closer Brandon Lyon and scored three runs to win, 5-4. The Astros wound up losing their first five games of the season, and the Opening Day blown save was a sign of things to come. The Astros converted only five of their first 14 save chances, and Lyon ended up on the disabled list in May and eventually had season-ending surgery. The Astros were five games out in the division by the time they won their first game and stayed in last place for the entire season en route to losing 100 games for the first time.

What went right: With the trades of Jeff Keppinger, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn near the Trade Deadline, the Astros weren't only able to get 10 players in return, but it also allowed them call up some prospects. Left fielder J.D. Martinez (More | ), third baseman Jimmy Paredes and second baseman Jose Altuve were brought up from Double-A Corpus Christi following each one of the trades and made immediate impacts. Martinez had 28 RBIs in August and showed some power. Paredes hit better than he did in the Minor Leagues, hovering around .300 during his time in the Major Leagues, but he was a work in progress on defense. Pitcher Henry Sosa, who was acquired in the Keppinger deal from the Giants, was plugged into the rotation and showed some promise. Matt Downs (More | ) provided a huge lift off the bench and came up with several huge hits, while Carlos Lee surged in the second half and made a push for 90 RBIs.

What went wrong: Let's begin with the starting pitching. Brett Myers, who was the team's Pitcher of the Year in 2010, couldn't duplicate his success. He had a span of 11 starts in which he didn't win a game, though he had a couple of potential wins blown by the bullpen. J.A. Happ had a disastrous season and wound up getting sent to the Minor Leagues in August, only to come back and finish strong. Bud Norris had an up-and-down year and won only once in his final 13 starts. In addition to the starters' woes, the bullpen led the league in blown saves for much of the season. Offensively, Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace struggled and were sent to the Minors to make room for rookies. Carlos Lee got off to another slow start, and the Astros didn't get much out of their catchers after starter Jason Castro was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in Spring Training. Bill Hall was signed to start at second base and was a bust, eventually getting released.

Biggest surprise: The trades of Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. Astros fans had to swallow a bitter pill in 2010 when the team traded Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt at the Trade Deadline, but no one would have imagined entering the season Pence and Bourn -- two of the team's most popular players and probably their best offensive players -- would be shown the door, too. With the team buried in the standings in July and Pence and Bourn heading towards big raises in arbitration this winter, the Astros decided to think long-term and deal Pence to the Phillies for four prospects. Less than two days later, Bourn was sent to Atlanta for three Minor League players and outfielder Jordan Schafer.

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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