On March 31, 2013 the Houston Astros set sail into uncharted territory. After spending 51 years in the National League the rebuilding franchise was thrown into the shark infested waters of the American League West.
The 2013 Astros began play against their in-state rivals, the Texas Rangers. Things went better than expected on Opening Night as the upstarts from Houston opened up a Texas-sized barrel of whoop-ass on their heavily favored opponent.
But things went south in a hurry. In the second game of the season the Astros first 26 batters were retired in order by Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish. A miraculous Marwin Gonzalez single through Darvish’s legs kept the Astros from becoming a footnote in the history books and the brunt of an endless number of jokes celebrating their futility.
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But some of the jokes have lingered as the Astros season has taken shape. Much like their last two National League campaigns, the wins have been few and far between. The constant losing, coupled with a new ownership group that has been viewed as cheap and insensitive, has alienated a large number of fans.
Even the few die-hards that remain have found it difficult to stick with the team during these trying times. The fact that the games are not available on television in most Houston area homes has been the final straw for many. The new Regional Sports Network owned by the Astros, Rockets, and NBC has yet to reach an agreement with any of the major satellite and cable TV providers. In addition, longtime fans that live in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the rest of Texas have been left out in the cold with no way to see the games.
So if the team loses 100 games (again) and no one can see it – did it actually happen? Of course, the answer is yes. The Astros maiden voyage into the American League is already a giant bust… as was to be expected.
Rookie manager Bo Porter has done his best to piece together a lineup, a rotation, and a bullpen with a group of unproven youngsters and a few veteran cast-offs. The results have not been pretty. The Astros go into the All-Star break with a record of 33-61, worst in the Major Leagues.
But help is on the way. While the big league product continues to disappoint, second-year G.M. Jeff Luhnow has already done a complete overhaul on the minor league system. The Astros farm teams had the worst cumulative record in baseball two years ago and now they have the best.
Bud Norris (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Top prospects are getting close to being big league ready. Starting pitcher Jarred Cosart gave us a glimpse into the future when he threw eight shutout innings in his MLB debut last week.
The second half of the season is likely to be a mirror image of the first. Over the last couple of years the Astros have dealt away just about every veteran player that had any type of value. This trend may continue but only a few commodities remain. Carlos Pena, Bud Norris, and Lucas Harrell have all been rumored to be on the trading block at one time or another. My feeling is that Norris will stay while the other two will be dealt.
If Luhnow pulls the trigger on a couple of trades we could see more of the top prospects arriving in Houston by September. Shortstop Jonathan Villar should be arriving even sooner.
The forecast calls for more choppy waters ahead. The Astros have already made it perfectly clear that the 2013 season is about evaluation, not winning.