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Houston Astros

2010: 76-86, fourth place.

Manager: Brad Mills (2nd season).

He’s Here: SS Clint Barmes, 2B Bill Hall, LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, LHP J.A. Happ, 1B Brett Wallace.

He’s Outta There: RHP Matt Lindstrom, RHP Felipe Paulino, INF Geoff Blum, 1B Lance Berkman, RHP Roy Oswalt.

Projected Lineup: CF Michael Bourn (.265, 2, 38, 52 SBs), LF Carlos Lee (.246, 24, 89), RF Hunter Pence (.282, 25, 91), 1B Brett Wallace (.222, 2, 13 in 51 games), 3B Chris Johnson (.308, 11, 52), C Humberto Quintero (.234, 4, 20), SS Clint Barmes (.235, 8, 50 with Colorado), 2B Bill Hall (.247, 18, 46 with Boston).

Rotation: RH Brett Myers (14-8, 3.14), LH Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.60), LH J.A. Happ (6-4, 3.40 with Philadelphia and Astros), RH Bud Norris (9-10, 4.92), RH Nelson Figueroa (5-3, 3.22).

Key Relievers: RH Brandon Lyon (6-6, 3.12, 20 saves, 79 games), RH Jeff Fulchino (2-1, 5.51), RH Wilton Lopez (5-2, 2.96, 68 games), LH Ryan Rowland-Smith (1-10, 6.75 as a starter).

Hot Spots: 1B, C and back end of rotation. Wallace earned the starting job at first base this spring, but the Astros will need him to improve on last year’s performance if he expects to stay in the lineup. He hit just .222 in 51 games after being acquired by the Astros in July. The Astros absorbed a major blow when catcher Jason Castro suffered a season-ending knee injury in spring training. The Astros also need to see more from Happ and Norris to shore up the rotation.

Outlook: Houston needs strong starts from Pence and Lee after their poor beginnings last season helped doom the Astros. Pence won a $6.9 million salary in arbitration and the 27-year-old will need to earn it with his play and leadership on this young team in its first full season without stars Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. The Astros are hoping to build on a solid finish to last season where they went 59-52 while relying on young talent. A big question is how Johnson will follow up a stellar rookie season after being called up in June. Hall and Barmes are new up the middle _ the Astros believe Hall is an upgrade at second base and they’re also hoping he adds some punch to their offense after they finished last season near the bottom of almost every statistical category. The top two spots in the rotation are solid in Myers, who matched a career high in wins, and Rodriguez, who had a 2.11 ERA after the All-Star break.

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Chicago Cubs

Manager: Mike Quade (1st full season).

2010: 75-87, fifth place.

Story Continues →