2014 Houston Astros: They can get worse

Carl Warwick

A native Texan who played baseball at Texas Christian, Warwick was a first-year Colt, but not an original Colt. Warwick was dealt to Houston early in the 1962 season. Warwick became a regular for the Colts’ first team, hitting .260 with 16 homers, 60 RBIs and a .712 OPS. Warwick didn’t fare as well in ’63, dropping in average to .254, homers to 7 and OPS to .667. He was dealt in spring training ’64 to St. Louis, where he spent the season as a pinch-hitter and spare outfielder, hitting. 259. But in the World Series that fall Warwick tied a record with three pinch-hits and reached base four straight times: knocking in the go-ahead run of a 9-5 Game 1 win; singling and scoring in an 8-3 Game 2 loss; walking in the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie in Game 3 (the Yankees won 2-1); and, trailing 3-0, starting a four-run rally with a pinch-single leading off the sixth inning of Game 4, a 4-3 Cardinals victory. Only in Game 6 was Warwick retired, on a foul pop. That was the highlight of Warwick’s career; he had just 120 more plate appearances over the next two years for the Cards, Orioles and Cubs. His final stats: .248 average, 31 homers, 149 RBIs, 13 steals, 363 hits, .668 OPS, 0.9 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Astros delayed as long as they could in calling up outfielder George Springer, who hit .303 with 37 homers, 83 walks, 45 steals and a 1.010 OPS last year, with the ability to play center feld. That wasn’t good enough to crack an outfield that included Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes, J.D. Martinez and Trevor Crowe. The Astros’ outfield was last in just about everything except initials. Springer started 2014 at age 24 in the minors and was perhaps wondering if he’d reach free agency or retirement first. The Astros had their reasons, and in a 51-111 way, they made sense. Why waste the start of Springer’s career on a team that won’t win 60 games. Of course, that’s small consolation to a fan base that has to watch L.J. Hoes. Springer will be better than any other Astros outfielder, which is like saying the next president from Pennsylvania will be better than James Buchanan. How could he be worse? But Springer’s stats have been helped by hitters’ parks (Lancaster in the California League) and hitters’ leagues (Cali, Texas, PCL). He’s fanned 156 and 161 times in 2012-13 and walked less than half as much. He’ll be good, but proceed with caution.

Trivia: The Astros have had one MVP winner and two Cy Young Award winners. Name them.

What he said: Astros GM Jeff Luhnow: “I do think we value the relationship with the fans and we’ll make a … we’ll balance all the factors, including the fact that we do want to show significant progress.” What he meant: “We still have fans?”

Outlook: The Astros won 51 games in 2013, a year after they won 55, two years after they won 56. That’s 162 wins and 324 loss over the last three years, the worst three-year stretch for any team since the New York Mets won just 154 from 1963-65.

But the Mets were an expansion team, the Astros established. Toronto is the only other team to have three straight under-60 win seasons since the advent of the 162-game schedule (not counting strike-abbreviated 1981 and 1994), and like the Mets, the Jays of 1977-79 were an expansion team.

(The two team with the most sub-60-win seasons are the Mets and the Tigers. Four of the Mets’ seasons were their pre-school days: 40 in 1962, 51 in ’63, 53 in ’64 and 50 in ’65; they also won just 59 in ’93. The Tigers spread theirs out: 57 in ’75, 59 in ’89, 53 in ’96, 55 in 2002 and 43 in 2003. The Tigers won 66 in 2004, giving them 164 wins from 2002-04.)

How much losing can one fan base stand? We’re about to find out, because the 2014 Astros aren’t likely to top 60 wins either.

They started the season with a rotation that had 80 career wins, 51 by Scott Feldman. They had a bullpen by committee and anyone who’s ever sat on one knows how hard it is to get things done that way. Their big offseason move was to add outfielder Dexter Fowler, who has a career OPS away from Coors Field that’s nearly 200 points less than it is there. That should help if the Astros have a road trip to Coors.

Otherwise, Fowler is another .686 OPS outfielder on a team that’s loaded with them.

Attendance is down, and who can blame the fans. The Astros have drawn 1.6 million each of the last two years to see a team that has a 1 in 3 chance of winning. And according to si.com’s Jay Jaffe, the Astros had a 0.0 Nielsen rating for a game last September. They had less viewers than the Cosby Show.

Why not? The Cosbys had a better chance of winning.

As bad as the Astros have been, and will be this year, it’s not for much longer. Their farm system is ranked No. 1 by ESPN’s Keith Law, and it should be: they’ve had the last two No. 1 picks and will have another this June.

Carlos Correa, the 2012 No. 1 pick, will give them a middle infielder with power, and Mark Appel, last year’s No 1 pick, is at the head of a long line of soon-to-be major-league ready pitchers. Lance McCullers Jr. (117 Ks in 104.2 innings in Low A in 2013), Mike Foltynewicz (2.87 ERA in AA), Vince Velasquez (123 Ks in 110 Low A innings), Michael Feliz (1.96 ERA in short-season A) and Asher Wojciechowski (2.07 ERA in 14 AA games) are right behind.

The Astros will be good again, maybe by 2016, and the fans will return. They may watch a sitcom over a bad team, but they’ll watch a good team over almost anything.

The question is when they do if others will follow the Astros’ pattern of self-immolation. No one, not even the Marlins, has been as bad for as long as the Astros, but if it pays off in the way it might for the Astros, that will encourage others to follow their bad example.

Cosby Show actors getting paid by royalties can only hope.

Trivia answer: Jeff Bagwell (.368, .451 on-base, 39 homers, 116 RBIs, 15 steals, 1.201 OPS) won the ’94 MVP; Rogers Clemens won the 2004 Cy Young and Mike Scott won in 1986.

Team song: Buddy Guy: Five Long Years

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