Same Astros, Different Basement
It's been a rough few years for Houston baseball. Since the franchise peaked with the 2005 World Series defeat to the White Sox, the decline has been steep for the Astros.
Long removed from the days of Roger Clemens and the killer B's, the franchise has become baseball's biggest bottom feeder. With 213 combined losses the past two years, the Astros could challenge futility not seen since the early 1960's Mets. Houston has the lowest payroll in baseball, despite residing in America's fourth-largest city. A paltry $25 million ... slightly less than A-Rod's salary this season.
With their farm system depleted by bad trades, owner Jim Crane is rebuilding his franchise from the ground up. That process doesn't look to get any easier with their transition to the American League West.
The Astros, along with new manager Bo Porter and their retro looking uni's, make their American League debut on Sunday Night Baseball. It will be a Lone Star Showdown against their 'natural' rival, the Texas Rangers. Houston's jerseys may be brighter, but their win-total outlook certainly won't be. Instead, it will be baptism by fire for Houston in the stacked American League West.
In addition to the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Oakland Athletics also won at least 89 games last season. Those clubs, along with the rest of the DH-enabled AL lineups, should prove overwhelmingly formidable to Houston. I somehow don't think that their top off-season acquisition Carlos Pena (.197 average, 182 strikeouts) will level that playing field.
In fact the stats don't lie. The AL posted a 142-110 record last season in inter-league play. The deeper AL lineups will pose a challenge to baseball youngest team. Three straight 100-loss seasons? Seems likely. Worst team since the '62 Mets? Well, maybe.
If ever a team was following the blueprint of the once-downtrodden Washington Nationals, it's Houston. Top draft picks await them this coming June as a result of last season's atrocious performance, and if the Astros will be favored for anything this season, it will be for wrapping up the top draft pick again next June.
They probably didn't have to switch leagues to make sure it happens, but the move definitely sealed the deal.