I’m still not used to the idea that the Houston Astros will be members of the American League this year. But ready or not here they come on March 31, opening the season against the Texas Rangers, their supposed new rival.
After playing in the National League since their inception in 1962, the Astros, who were born as the Houston Colt .45s for those of you who were not born at the time, were forced to make the switch to the AL. It will seem weird watching Houston play a full menu of American League teams, almost as if they’re playing an interleague schedule all year.
But although Major League Baseball is trying to trump up immediate interest, or at least remind people the Astros really are swapping leagues by scheduling them to open against the Rangers, the reality is no one is going to be too expected about the change in 2013. The Astros were the worst team in baseball last year and they will probably be the worst team in baseball again this year even if they do swap league addresses.
Not much seems to be new with the Astros. Spring training results don’t matter much at all, but the Astros are not exactly lighting it up during this exhibition season. They are losing at about the same rate as they lost during the regular season of 2012, which is not a pretty picture. Do you realize that Houston was worse last season than it was as an expansion team in 1962? In 1962, the Colt .45s finished 64-96. Welcome to the big leagues, guys. Last year the Astros finished 55-107. Say goodbye to the National League, guys.
If the Astros made any big moves over the winter to buttress the roster, I must have missed it. Well, that depends how you rate the acquisition of first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena stroked 19 home runs and drove in 61 runs for Tampa Bay last season and that would qualify him as an Astros Babe Ruth if he hadn’t only hit .197 to accompany those numbers.
It seems the Astros who made the most news in the off-season were Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell for not being elected to the Hall of Fame. Both of those players are far better known than anybody on the Houston roster right now.
There are 22 pitchers on the Astros’ 40-man roster and I’m thinking the best-known among them is Phil Humber, picked up as a free agent from the Chicago White Sox who didn’t want him back despite throwing a perfect game last season. The Josh Fields on the pitching staff is not the same guy as the Josh Fields who played the field for the White Sox a few years ago. Lucas Harrell went 11-11 last year with a 3.76 earned run average and that made him the ace of the staff. No one else hit double figures in wins. Let’s just say that if you’re a young pitcher dreaming of making the big leagues Houston is the place to be because if you can get it over the plate the Astros can use you.
Fans of most teams have some optimism in March before the real games start in April, but it’s not going to be any easier being an Astros fan with them in the American League than it was with them in the National League. They won’t even get to play the Chicago Cubs or the Florida Marlins nearly as often.
The scary thing is that the Astros have to improve by 10 wins this summer just to be better than they were in 1962. It’s going to be a long time before Houston becomes a contender in the AL.