Season 36: 93-69
Signed Rule V'ers Howard Braden, Maicer Gongorra (subsequently waived) and Hick Rocker; promoted P Lars Appel and C Nathan Sheets; and signed FA C Robert Roberts.
The 'Stros missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons last year (but just barely - 1 game back of St. Louis in the South and a tiebreaker loss to D.C. for the Wild Card), but are still blessed with Tony Moya (still capable of winning a CY at age 38), Jim Colin (although out for the first 2 months), Garrett Ward (2-time CY winner in his own right), 3-time MVP Alex Field, and a number of other solid players (mostly on the pitching staff).
Houston really needed to shore up their offense - I think they dropped the ball here (and yes, my opinions are usually wrong). I don't know if Gerald Crane was the answer (or if they even had a chance to re-sign him), but at least one team thought he was worth quite a bit more than his previous contract. Stefan Palmeiro becomes the full-time RF - he'll probably produce at about the level Crane did last year (not great), but they're left without any viable hitter as a backup COF. Field will likely snap back from a sub-par Season 36, and 1B Danny Barr is the real deal as a power hitter. But the rest of the lineup is woefully underpowered. Possible nice surprise: 2B Jason Bravo came over in a trade from Seattle last year to juice up the power numbers, but missed a good chunk of S36 with a hammy injury - let's hope he can be the goods this year.
I think their pitching will keep them in the race, as most of their excellent (3.06 ERA - 3rd in NL) staff returns (minus only reliever Orval Wilkins). Losing Colin for 60 days certainly doesn't help, but the group is deep enough to absorb that loss.
Looks to me like management has decided the Cardinals can't replicate their S36 success (yeah, they did win 32 1-run games, but the 'Stros won 31), and that they're (the Astros, that is) playoff shoe-ins. I guess that's the "anything can happen in the playoffs, so get to the playoffs with the worst team possible theory." OK, but the Braves didn't sit still, the Reds have left rebuilding behind, and nobody's expecting the Cubs, Pirates, Mets or Rockies to fall off anytime soon.