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Cecil Cooper might be first manager fired


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The Astros needed to start quickly to keep owner Drayton McLane from interfering. It didn't happen, creating the realistic possibility that Cecil Cooper will be the first manager fired.

Cooper is a ready scapegoat; McLane allowed him to enter the final year of his contract without offering him an extension. The Astros' veterans do not care for Cooper, and the team's 1-6 start — following its 1-16-3 start in spring training — points to a lack of preparation.

Hitting coach Sean Berry could be the first to go; the Astros are averaging 2.29 runs per game, lowest in the National League. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Co. will come around, but even then the Astros will be in trouble.

The rotation beyond Roy Oswalt is highly suspect. Right-hander Brian Moehler, 37, has a sprained right knee. Left-hander Mike Hampton has not made more than 13 starts in a season since 2004. Righty Russ Ortiz has not made 30 in a season since then.

The Astros lack an obvious in-house replacement for Cooper. Buck Showalter, highly detail-oriented, might be the perfect choice to set the team on the right course. But he might not want to work for McLane.

Who would?

The Astros' 86-75 record last season was an illusion; the team was outscored by 31 runs. Payroll considerations forced the team to part with left-hander Randy Wolf and third baseman Ty Wigginton. The late signing of free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez was McLane's way of saying, "Look, fans, we're trying!"

Say this for the Astros — they routinely start poorly, then charge. Firing Cooper would not be unreasonable, particularly if McLane replaced him with someone like Showalter. But the owner is sadly mistaken if he thinks his team is ready to contend.

All this after Cooper said this spring that the Astros would win 90 games this year "without a doubt"

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