Meet The Astros
The Seattle Mariners have played the Houston Astros before. They met three times in 2002, they met three times in 2004, and they met three times in 2007. You might remember that 2007 series for the Astros pounding out a dozen hits off Felix in six innings. Or you might remember that, in that same game, Willie Bloomquist knocked an inside-the-park dinger. In the next game, the Mariners got throttled. In the next game, the Mariners got throttled. Those days weren’t kind, but those days are past, and now for the first time, the Mariners will meet the Astros as members of the same league, and of the same division. Let’s all familiarize ourselves with the new enemy, as the Mariners will play a new team in a new home ballpark.
The thing to know about the Astros is that they really suck. Two years ago, they lost 106 games. Last year, they lost 107 games, and a lot of people think they’re going to lose even more in 2013. I don’t know if they’re actually worse than the Marlins, but at least the Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton. The Astros have Jose Altuve, and Jose Altuve isn’t even that good. He’s Astros-good, in the way that last year Michael Saunders was Mariners-good. A competitive team would take Altuve, but he’s hardly be a cornerstone.
The Astros suck-diddly-uck. Bud Norris doesn’t suck, but he’s going to get traded if he’s worth half a damn. The Astros are starting Ronny Cedeno, who the Cardinals cut at the end of spring training so they could give the full-time shortstop job to Pete Kozma. In fact, as someone pointed out to me the other day, the Astros have a roster full of guys you might not have known were still playing major-league baseball. Cedeno is one of them. Phil Humber is another, and he’s starting tonight. There’s Erik Bedard, and Rick Ankiel, and Carlos Pena, and Jose Veras. The Astros’ roster is part random driftwood, part replacement-level nothing, and part potentially useful role players. It looks not unlike the sort of roster you could put together from end-of-spring-training cuts and free agents. Such a roster would blow.
It’s way too early in the season to take statistics seriously. I mean, the Astros have played just six games. But over those six games, they’ve posted a .308 BABIP. Not bad. They’ve also hit .199/.234/.286, with 4% walks and 36% strikeouts. For his career, as a hitter, Mark Prior hit .201/.231/.265, with 3% walks and 35% strikeouts. When J.J. Putz was amazing in 2006, he allowed a line of .207/.245/.284 with 4% walks and 34% strikeouts. The Astros, at present, are an experiment, but they’re not an experiment that’s meant to serve any real purpose — the next good Astros team will feature virtually none of this Astros team. It’s an experiment because the Astros couldn’t not run an experiment. They had to do something with the grant money. But no one’s going to learn anything from the results and the experiment the Astros actually care about is still in development.
See, the Astros are obviously rebuilding, and what the front office inherited is kind of like what Jack Zduriencik inherited, without the Felix Hernandez part. They inherited little talent and a ridiculous ballpark, and now it’s about making the best of things. What the Astros have done is assemble a decent farm system, and it’s still improving. Young talent will arrive, and young talent will continue to be brought in. There aren’t really pieces on the major-league roster the Astros could unload in a blockbuster, not anymore, but the priority is on youth and they’ll get their hands on some. They’ve already gotten their hands on some, and Carlos Correa is a good one. Jonathan Singleton is a good one. For the Astros, at least there are some things to look forward to.
And it’s important to consider the Astros’ future, since even the Astros would probably prefer not to address the Astros’ present. In the present, the Astros are a team to beat up on. A team that ought to lift the entire rest of the American League West. A team that’s going to make you wonder if one of your pitchers has turned a corner, since he just racked up a bunch of strikeouts. The Astros are going to make it critically important to always bear in mind the quality of opposition. Joe Saunders might strike out seven dudes tonight. Don’t pay it any mind. Astros.
But, with the Astros, I sense that they’re going to be the next Internet bandwagon. They’re starting from absolutely nothing, which makes them inoffensive, and they’ve already poached a lot of Internet analytical talent. They have a guy in the front office whose job title is Director of Decision Sciences. You probably recognize the names Mike Fast and Kevin Goldstein, and the Astros aren’t done hiring intellect. The Astros are putting together a sharp team of minds, and the Internet loves baseball teams that get creative and forward-thinking with analysis. For a time it seemed like the Mariners were one of those teams. A lot of us fell in love with the Rays some years back, and before that we fell in love with the Indians.
What that doesn’t guarantee is success on the Astros’ part. Turns out every team in baseball is pretty smart, and the Astros are unlikely to have a massive advantage over anyone else. The Internet will be biased because it will have lost some people it liked to the organization, but there are so many brilliant baseball minds out there, most of whom you’ve never heard of, and never will hear of. When the Astros start showing some promise, they’ll get a lot of support, a lot of positive articles written about them, and while that will be by no means unfair or unwarranted, it’s important to consider the hivemind aspect. As people get swept up in the Astros, more people will get swept up in the Astros without really thinking about it, and then that runs of the risk of the Astros becoming greatly overrated.
But they are headed in the right direction, seems like. From what I know, from where I sit, I’d rather have the Astros’ people in charge of a team than the Mariners’ people. At least, if the Astros fail, they’ll fail having tried new, innovative things. They’ll need to try new, innovative things to climb out from their present-day hole.
And it’s a deep hole. Such a deep hole. The 2013 Astros are awful, and the Mariners should slaughter them, even though the Mariners aren’t that great. This is the worst team the Mariners have been able to play against in years. But if the Mariners do manage to beat up on the Astros in the short-term, savor it. Appreciate it. Because it might not be long before the Astros’ course intersects with the Mariners’ course, and then there won’t be any more gimmes. Teams this bad don’t come around every day. But the Astros’ organizational focus isn’t on this team.