Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

The Houston Astros and Learning to Live with Yourself

“I’ve watched Astros games. In their entirety. And, believe me, I now truly realize how blessed I am. You almost have to believe in God to be an Astros fan.”

Navin Vaswani, Fangraphs

It’s easy to laugh at the Astros.

Chances are, you’re not a dedicated fan of their’s, so when you look at them, you’re just assuming that all of the guys wearing Astros jerseys are part of the plan, put there on purpose, and failing.  Which is rather easy to believe, but also, very fun to believe.  Because no one has failed as spectacularly as the Houston Astros in 2012, and there is nothing people like to point out more than spectacular failure.

So let’s try to look at the Astros in a way that no one else is able to recently:  With a straight face.

I don't see what's so funny about all of this.

Now you can’t just put up an out of context screen cap and sit back, point, and guffaw at Houston’s horribleness.  Why, if you took a single frame from my life in which it appears that me as a sixth grader is being concussed by a basketball hurled by several older, larger children, you would probably laugh, too; and I wouldn’t have the chance to explain that we were all best friends who hung out all the time and never laughed at each other when one of us read a poem about LEGOs in front of the whole class.

Today may not be the best time to be having this discussion.  If you bore witness to the jaw-dropping clown show that was the Astros’ top of the 11th last night against the Nationals, you know damn well how acrobatically this team can implode.  So curious is their toxicity that other Texas sports franchises genuinely fear infection.

But you could argue that the only reason they can move so freely is that they are no longer weighed down by the veteran contracts that made them so massively immobile in the past few years.  The person arguing with you would be like, “What? Are you trying to use a metaphor to explain a literal thing?  That’s so contradictory I can’t even…”  I’m assuming at this point in the conversation you would have run away.

The point is, the heavy-money deals have been lifted off the books, leaving room for spry young upstarts to step in and suffer through all the 3-24 months that accompany growth.

Brad Mills, however, despite his open communication and organized tie collection, may not be a part of that growth.  GM Jeff Luhnow has to be on the hunt for somebody who can wrangle this wide-eyed crew into a competitive core with a few frayed edges.  After three years of stale finishes, management may not have the confidence in Mills to collect a young squad, take a deep breath, and push forward.

Key pieces have been departing from George Bush Intercontinental Airport for years now, and for each Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence and Wandy Rodriguez, the team has received a package of top prospects.  This year, the trend continued, as recognizable faces left Houston, starting with Carlos Lee on July 4 (Which, by the way, brought the team’s median age down to 27).

That’s sixteen players received by the Astros, only three of which were Major Leaguers, and one without an identity yet.  Their future entry to the AL West seems to be ushered in by a fiery salvo of youth, as well as a level of patience from fans.

Then, there are the players who are already here.

Second baseman Jose Altuve, the shortest man in baseball at 5′ 5″, is fifth in the NL in OPS (.770), second in batting average (.299) and first in hits (122).  He was a first time All-Star this year at 22 and punched a baseball 412 feet at Wrigley Field.  Altuve is the face of the second wave; the leader of the reinforcements stepping in behind fallen or departed heroes.

Lucas Harrell, plucked off the White Sox waiver wire last season, has been the rookie starting pitcher/anchor of the rotation since outfoxing Clayton Kershaw on May 25, back when people were still giving the Astros a chance.  He’s put in more time than any other NL rookie, throwing 133 1/3 innings, and the team is rightfully looking to limit his pitch count for the remainder of the year to save him for more necessary futures.

So you see?  This team is more than just frantic collisions, blown leads, and circus music.  Like any good baseball story, they’ve hit bottom, and are looking to bounce.  Unlike a good baseball story, their’s will not feature Christopher Lloyd as a non-corporeal messenger from the heavens, sent to save them because Joseph Gordon-Levitt needs a father figure.

“We need to just keep playing.”

Bud Norris

No, the Astros will be digging out of this one all on their own; which makes their moves, drive, and talent all the more hopeful, and essential.  In a league where mis-trades and setbacks can cost you a decade, let it be known that in several years, the Astros could be the contender, and your team could be the one tripping over each other as Roger Bernadina circles the bases.

Yeah.  Let that sink in.

Baseball is terrifying.

Tags: Brad Mills Houston Astros Jose Altuve MLB

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