SLEEPER Morgan Ensberg is healthy after having played through a shoulder injury last year. He'll get back to the 30-home run level.
BUST The numbers say Brad Lidge was unlucky last year, but every Dan Wheeler save says the Astros won't stand for much more of it.
HITTER TO WATCH: Hunter Pence, OF Pence should be in the Astros' lineup right now; despite his unorthodox swing, he has done nothing but hit and hit for power since he turned pro.
PITCHER TO WATCH: Paul Estrada, RHP
Estrada has flown under the radar for some time, but he's a rare reliever with three plus pitches, including a curve that is a big-league out pitch right now.
MLB Preview 2007
FIXED One of his new teammates has dubbed Carlos Lee "7-Eleven" because "his mouth is always open." No doubt the $100M free agent brings energy and enthusiasm. More important, he provides what the Astros really need: a banger to protect Lance Berkman in the lineup. "But Carlos is more than just a slugger," says Phil Garner. "He makes contact. We got hurt so many times last season because we couldn't put the ball in play." If Morgan Ensberg rebounds, Houston's 3-4-5 will be among the best in the league.
NEEDS FIXING With the lumbering Lee in left field and converted 2B Chris Burke in center, Houston's outfield defense won't rank among the best. Minute Maid's left field is minute, so Lee's D won't hurt too much at home, but for help on the road he'll look to Burke, who has played outfield sparingly. "In left, I used to look over at the center fielder for help," Burke says. "Now I'm the center fielder. And if I don't get to a ball, I'll wonder, 'Should I have caught that? Does Carlos Beltran make that play?' " The answer is probably yes.
"I wouldn't say I'm Babe Ruth, but I do feel I can hit anything right now." -- OF prospect Hunter Pence, after Burke said Pence was hitting like The Bambino in spring camp.
Houston's biggest problem? The Rocket landed too late (June 22) to satisfy 'Stros fans fed up with paying too much buck (average ticket prices were hiked to $26.66, MLB's sixth priciest, after their first-ever World Series trip in 2005) for too little bang (a league-worst .255 BA).
"I think the Astros are a good team and they could be a playoff team again if all the pieces fall together. Obviously, they need Roger Clemens. Without clemens, they just don't have the pitching to get them back to the playoffs."