"Last year at this time we had [Dave] Smith, [Larry] Andersen, Danny Darwin, [Juan] Agosto and [Dan] Schatzeder," says Houston pitching coach Bob Cluck of the revamped bullpen. "We had five good pitchers, now all of them are gone."
Thus, the Astros must rely on relievers like Curt Schilling, who, some fear, is worth closer to a farthing. Howe can look on the bright side: Most games shouldn't be close by the late innings. Last year Houston had the league's lowest batting average, scored the fewest runs and got the fewest hits, which is why third base coach Phil Garner is being called baseball's Maytag repairman, the loneliest man in the game.
"We have a lot of hungry guys," says centerfielder Steve Finley. Hungry guys with anemic statistics. Finley will frequently be flanked by Karl (Tuffy) Rhodes and Luis Gonzalez, who represent two of Houston's brightest hopes. Together, the two have hit .150 in 51 major league games.
Before each home game this spring, the Osceola County Stadium P.A. played Frank Sinatra's High Hopes: "Just what makes that little ol' ant/Think he'll move that rubber tree plant?"
This season, the ant can't.