The Houston Astros' new manager, Hal Lanier, married Mary Ross of St. Louis on March 6. That match may have been made in heaven, but the Astros' prospects for the '86 season aren't quite as lofty.
The Astros think that Lanier is well-groomed for the job. At 43, he is young and comes from a winning family: His father, Max, pitched in three World Series during a 14-year career (1938-53); Hal played with only one sub-.500 team, the '73 Yankees, during his 10-year career, was minor league Manager of the Year while with Springfield in 1980 and coached in two World Series for the Cardinals in the past five years. Now he is with the Astros, for better or for worse.
Because this is their 25th anniversary, the Astros have been selected as hosts for the '86 All-Star Game. It will be a nice July break for most Astros. The team's best players are leftfielder Jose Cruz and second baseman Bill Doran, who had six offensive career highs last season.
Veterans Mike Scott, Bob Knepper and Nolan Ryan fill the first three spots of Lanier's planned five-man rotation, but after that the staff is as thin as the artificial turf in the Dome. Rookie Jim Deshaies earned a starting spot this spring. And the Astros have another big hope in Charlie Kerfeld, 22. The son of a cook, Kerfeld weighed 280 pounds when he came up from Tucson in July. The 6'6" Kerfeld strained the seams of his Astro polyesters. He allowed 69 runners in 44 innings, but as Dave Smith, the Astros' ace reliever says, "It's hard to get your curve over when you can't get over your belly." Kerfeld shed some 45 pounds in the off-season after a visit to a Tucson nutrition center.
Last season the Astros attempted 152 stolen bases, 258 fewer than the league-leading Cardinals. Though he lacks a Vince Coleman and a Willie McGee, Lanier will be giving runners the green light. That should help an offense that was second in the league in team average (.261) and runs per game (4.4). First baseman Glenn Davis is the Astros' first genuine long-ball threat since Lee May, and catcher Mark Bailey might hit a few out. It would be nice for Houston if shortstop Dickie Thon came all the way back from his beaning two years ago.
Sorry, Hal. The '86 season doesn't figure to be a second honeymoon.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Batted 137 points higher, .343-.206, with runners on than with bases empty.
Despite name, not exactly Mr. Outside: .299 in the Astrodome and .227 in road games.
The only player who has four extra-base hits against Dwight Gooden.
Hit .190 at home, .308 on the road; pre-beaning, he hit .304 in the Dome.
Had lowest fielding percentage (.932) of any NL third baseman last season.
Has hit 28 of his last 29 home runs away from the Astrodome.
Something fishy here: Bass 3 for 3 vs. Steve Trout (and he can't wait to feast on Bob Kipper).
Alltime league leader in fielding pct. by an outfielder at .993 (minimum: 1,000 games).
Allowed 119 runs, tying for NL lead with Rick Rhoden; first Houston pitcher ever to do that.
Pitched to no decision in 13 of his 35 starts, tied for 2nd most in NL.
Won 11 games vs. teams with winning records; only Hershiser, Gooden and Gross won more.
Allowed 1.93 walks per nine innings in '85, best rate among NL relievers.