There seems to be little Houston fans can do but despair. The team imploded last year, traded away it's most notable names and is trotting out the kids and the has-beens this year.
Everything is in place of a year of gloom and doom on the diamond, empty seats and silly errors as the hometown team lurches toward its inevitable date with the the American League next year, where they will have to handle the Rangers and Angels arms race while contending with the always trying Oakland and the always sorry Seattle (That's going to be a fun road trip ...)
Well, not exactly.
How about this: Houston will win 75 games, and probably a few more.
I see the Astros in the same vein as the 2007 Florida Marlins, a team with a $12 million payroll and zilch to play for. Everyone - and don't pretend you didn't back then - picked them to lose upward of 110 games. The team was managed by Joe Girardi in his first year, and was filled with no names. Everyone predicted them to lose 120 games that year, and to give the '64 Mets a run for their money in futility.
How'd the season turn out? Not bad, actually.
Now, it's hard to compare Brad Mills to Joe Girardi on even the best days. Mills may know a lot, but it's hard for me to give him the benefit of the doubt on fire. But the talent is similar, and with Bud Norris emerging and several young pitchers having the potential for breakout years, Houston could be an 80 win team this year.
It's not much, but hey, it's better than the 56 wins Houston had in 2011.
The Astros have some talent at the front end of their rotation, with Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez. There's also a lot of potential in the unknowns Kyle Weiland (who never got a fair chance in Boston) and Lucas Harrell (who didn't fair well with the White Sox but could surprise.)
The lineup is young, and had its fair share of struggles in the spring, but there's enough here to surprise. Jeff Luhnow has a plan with this team, and it's been evident since he arrived from St. Louis late last year. The Mark Melancon trade was probably the theft of the winter, trading a decent reliever, and maximizing the return on him.
If the two players the Astros got in return - Jed Lowrie and Weiland - produce at all, it will be a steal. Melancon is just another cog in the bullpen for the Red Sox, a dime-a-dozen reliever Boston GM Ben Cherrington decided he had to have, like some shiny toy sitting on the shelf of a junk store.
Plus, never underestimate the "nothing to play for" mentality that develops sometimes. Expectations, however small, can kill teams. The good thing for the Astros this season is that there are none. If they win 40, 50, or 60 games, well, they were supposed to only win that many.
Playoffs is probably still too much to ask for, but progress isn't. And the Astros should show plenty of it this year.
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