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No matter how you look at it, this year's Astros are terrible

Aug. 18, 2012 at 3:18 a.m.


They are the worst team in baseball.

Their fans know it and stay away in droves.

The players are not stupid. They see the standings confirm as much.

Maybe there is hope for the Houston Astros, but at this point it's all in the future. None of that is any consolation for the present, even to those putting that sad team together.

In the short term a win would be nice, just one.

The idea was to publish this commentary weeks ago. That was before the team shed payroll and production prior to non-waiver trade deadline , before the Astros were not evoking comparisons to the worst Major League Baseball team in history, before the franchise set a low for attendance at Minute Maid Park.

"I'm not happy with the results that we're fielding right now and I want to make sure that we can do everything we can to improve the team in the short term," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said last month after the team announced its trade of pitching ace Wandy Rodriguez. "I think we've done a lot to take care of the long-term and now its time to start focusing on what we can do to help this team in the short term."

At this point the team needs all the help it can get.

Through Friday, the team had a lower winning percentage (.328) than the team that lost 106 games last year. A once successful and proud organization plays in a stadium that has become a de-facto ghost town. Perhaps only NASA has fallen on harder times than the Astros.

It's the minute things that demonstrate the decline, more than the losses.

Last month, when I watched the team face division-leading Cincinnati, it was apparent the team does pregame stretches mostly individually, and trickle out to the field in the top of the first inning. Other times its base running miscues, or bobbling routine grounders.

There are some decent pieces. The problem is there are not enough of them.

Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve are a good double play combination. But, the oft-injured Lowrie hasn't played since July 14 with an ankle injury.

Lucas Harrell has pitched well for periods this season, especially since the All-Star break. Relievers Wilton Lopez and Wesley Wright are young, cheap, and under club control for four more seasons.

All of those players are under club control for at least three seasons and might make the nucleus of a team that can avoid last place.

Perhaps there is hope for the future. Not solely because every minor league affiliate above Rookie ball has a winning record.

Lunhow noted the organization spent nearly $10 million in amateur signing bonuses. Throw in the pieces received in the Carlos Lee (July 4), Brandon Lyon/J.A. Happ (July 20), Brett Myers (July 21), Chris Johnson (July 29) and Rodriguez deals, and the club might no longer be called the Lastros, AAAstros, and other derisive terms.

Tuesday's 10-1 win in Chicago was just Houston's 12th since summer officially began. It means comparisons to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders are no longer in play. The Spiders were the worst team in MLB history when they went 20-134.

The Astros' three wins this week equaled their win-total since the All-Star break, a stretch of futility that had only been equaled by - yes, those infamous Spiders.

Before the optimism, or the prospects or the fans flock to Minute Maid Park, the wins have to return. Unfortunately for those brave enough to stomach the bad baseball, they might be waiting a while.

Will Brown is a sports reporter for the Victoria Advocate.

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