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Do the Houston Astros have what it takes?

May 6, 2013, 10:28 AM EDT

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Getty Images

The Houston Astros have five pseudo regulars in thelr lineup — FIVE — who are striking out more than once per game. This is a rather astounding achievement, possibly historic, and it leads to my prediction that this team will get no-hit before the year’s out, maybe twice. They have already flirted with no-nos — Yu Darvish took a perfect game into the ninth against them and Justin Verlander had them no-hit for six innings on Sunday. It will happen.

But what makes the Astros special is that their lineup is probably the best part of the team. Their pitching staff is obviously trying to become legendary. At the moment, their rotation includes Erik Bedard (7.36 ERA), Phillip Humber (8.82 ERA) and Brad Peacock (9.41 ERA). Each of these pitchers has been extraordinary in one way or another this year. Bedard has given up an  eight home runs in 22 innings, which, honestly, would be tough to do if you were throwing batting practice. The league is slugging .681 against Peacock. And the league is hitting .349 against Humber. Your 3-4-5 pitchers, ladies and gentlemen.

CSN Houston: Astros hold team meeting after being swept

It is hard not to feel sorry for second baseman Jose Altuve, a good young player perhaps breaking out into stardom. Nobody notices.

Right now, the Astros are 8-24, right at the the magical .250 winning percentage that the 1962 New York Mets nailed perfectly. Those Mets went 40-120, and they did it with a breathtaking consistency that, even 50 years later, fills the soul with joy.

1962 Mets

April: 3-13 (.231)

May: 9-17 (.345)

June: 8-23 (.258)

July: 6-23 (.207)

August: 8-26 (.235)

September: 6-18 (.250)

That’s how you do it — month after month after month of consistent awfulness. You think it’s easy, but it isn’t. There are series when the other team is beat up and uninterested. There are games when the bounces break your way. There are times when the umpire gives you a good call and the ball looks like a beach ball coming in. You have to overcome that sort of good fortune and still find ways to lose.

Look at those Mets: Sure, they got blown out 37 times by five runs or more — but that’s the easy part. This Astros team is on pace to being blown out 50 times this year. The hard parts: The Mets had to lose 39 of the 58 one-run games they played, which is a real challenge even for a terrible team. They had to lose 13 of the 17 games they played that went into extra innings. They had to have an LVP …  a player who found ways, through performance and bad luck and sheer happenstance, to deliver losses consistently, even when victory seemed assured. That Mets team had a 23-year-old righty named Craig Anderson, who served the role beautifully.

Anderson had talent. He was a good pitcher at Lehigh, and the Mets took him from St. Louis in the expansion draft. Through May 20, he was 3-1 with a couple of saves and a 2.38 ERA. On May 12, he actually earned the win in both games of the doubleheader, pitching two scoreless innings in the first game and one scoreless in the second. Anderson could never have known then what was about to happen to him.

On May 24, he gave up back to back RBI singles to Frank Howard and John Roseboro to turn a 2-2 game into a 4-2 loss. Three days later, he came into a game against the Giants with the Mets leading 5-2. A single (to Willie Mays), double, single, wild pitch, stolen base, walk and passed ball later, the Mets lost 6-5. Next time out, tie game, Anderson allowed a homer to Willie Davis to lose another.

He entered a game the Mets were losing 4-0, and pitched pretty well for 5-plus innings. The Mets scored four runs to tie the game in time for Anderson to give up what turned out to be the losing runs. He was one out away from getting a save against the Cubs when third baseman Rod Kanehl botched a ground ball. Anderson promptly walked the next guy and gave up a three-run homer to Ernie Banks. He blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth against the Houston Colt 45s, with Joey Amalfitano lining the walk-off single, The Mets led 3-2 in the seventh, and Anderson gave up the tying homer to Billy Williams. He started a game against the Pirates and lasted 1/3 of an inning, giving up five hits before he was pulled. Two starts later, he threw a complete game against St. Louis and allowed only three runs — and lost 3-2.

He got shelled against the Dodgers and lasted only an inning. Pitched into bad luck in Cincinnati and lost 5-3. Blew a save in Milwaukee and then had a bad start in Milwaukee two days later. Lasted only 3 1/3 innings his next two starts. Gave up 11 runs — only three earned — against the Dodgers. Blew a lead in Houston when the guy he intentionally walked scored on a single and an error by left fielder Frank Thomas.

These are just the lowlights of a pretty incredible season, one where Anderson lost 16 straight games, blew six saves and allowed 27 unearned runs in barely more than 100 innings over a four month period. Well, if you’re going to lost 120 games in a season, you need that kind of individual performance and team effort to pull it off.

The question is: Does this Houston Astros team have the staying power to be that kind of awful all year long? Oh, they’re bad … no question about that. They will lose 100 games. But, those of us who have spent much of our lives following and studying bad teams know: It’s not easy to stay THAT bad for an entire season. The 2005 Kansas City Royals were probably the worst team I have watched with regularity, which is saying something when you consider I watched the 1985 and 1991 Cleveland Indians, the 2004 and 2006 Kansas City Royals with regularity.

That 2005 Royals team had a magic about them. They started the year with Tony Pena as manager — he quit in May. Bob Schaefer took over in an interim capacity, which saddled the poor guy with a lifetime 6-12 career record. Then Buddy Bell came in and piloted the team to a delightful 19-game losing streak. The Royals that year lost one game when the left fielder dropped a pop-up, lost another when two fielders started jogging back to the dugout with the ball still in the air, lost another when a pitcher, in attempting to get force out at the plate from about 40 feet away, threw the ball roughly 50 feet over the catcher’s head. It was an astonishing team, really.

They only lost 105 games, though.

The 2003 Tigers are probably the worst team I watched from a relatively short distance. That team had it all. The couldn’t hit, couldn’t field, couldn’t pitch. The Tigers’ best starting pitcher — their very best, and it wasn’t especially close — was Nate Cornejo, who went 6-17 with a 4.67 ERA and (I find this quite amazing) just 46 strikeouts in 194 innings pitched. That’s 2.13 strikeouts per nine, if you are scoring at home, and that’s the lowest total for any qualifying pitcher in the last 50 years. You would expect more strikeouts than that by mistake. Repeat: He was their BEST starter.

And the Tigers were even worse offensively — dead last in almost every category, Just one example: They hit 73 fewer doubles than any team in the league. One more example: Their .300 on-base percentage was tied for the worst in the league in a decade — tied with themselves one year earlier.

But they too could not quite maintain the magical .250 win percentage.They tried, Lord they tried, but playing the Royals and Twins at the end of the year, they could not help but win five of their last six to go 43-119 … and the 1962 Mets players filled their champagne glasses and toasted themselves once more.

The 2010 Seattle Mariners are the worst offensive team I’ve ever seen. Ichiro hit .315 with 42 stolen bases in more than 700 plate appearances that year … and scored just 74 runs. That’s almost a mathematical impossibility. The team was last in batting averages, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, doubles, triples and home runs. Forty three times that year, the Mariners score one or zero runs, most in the AL since 1990. But that team still managed to lose only 101 games, largely because of that party pooper Felix Hernandez, who won the Cy Young Award with his league leading 2.27 ERA and dominant pitching.

The 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks were terrible in so many different ways. They were dead last in the league in on-base percentage. They were near the bottom in walks allowed and ERA. And, wow, was that team a defensive disaster. They gave up more than 100 unearned runs,. But as bad as they were, they were not quite bad enough — at one point early in the year they won eight of 12 to more of less guarantee they would not lose 120 games.

Even the 1988 Orioles, who lost their first 21 games and finished the year dead last in both runs scored and runs allowed, lost only 107.

Does this Astros team have the staying power to challenge the ’62 Mets? They did show something over the weekend, first losing a hard-fought 4-3 game to Detroit and then losing 17-2 and 9-0. They have given up seven or more runs 15 times already. Their record when they allow four-plus runs is a choice 1-23, which shows a certain team effort. But it’s a long season. And it’s hard to maintain this kind of bad.

  1. buffalomafia - May 6, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    Seems like the Bad News Bears?

    What happened?

    I thought Houston feilded a Major League Team?

  2. mungman69 - May 6, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Maybe Roy Halliday can pitch for my Astros.

  3. proudlycanadian - May 6, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Sorry Joe, but I do not think that Houston has what it takes. The team somehow manages to have enough blow out wins to stay interesting.

  4. quizguy66 - May 6, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    The Mets were actually 6-23 in July of ’62, not 8-23.

    One thing that helps the Astros in this quest is they don’t play the Marlins this year.

    -QG

    • danfrommv - May 6, 2013 at 4:20 PM

      But they get to play the Angels more. And they get a good chance for a series win coming up Tue/Wed/Thur this week.

      The Angels have the 3rd worst record in the league right now, and are off to their worst start in franchise history. Thanks, Josh Hamilton, and Jerry DiPoto for putting together the pitching staff. I don’t know how they missed getting Bedard, he fits the Blanton/Hanson mode (Batting Practice pitchers).

  5. stevequinn - May 6, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    First place in the NL Central is occupied by St. Louis. They have as fine a minor league system as any team in MLB. The reason for this is Jeff Luhnow. He built that system.

    Jeff Luhnow is now the Houston GM. Believe me, Houston may be “down” this year but that won’t last for long.

    • stex52 - May 6, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      But how long is long? A good farm system allows you to feed in maybe three or four players a year who will make a difference, but that doesn’t mean they will be All-Stars. They just add to the mix. When all you have is Altuve, long could be pretty long.

      • jroth95 - May 6, 2013 at 3:15 PM

        Agreed. Neal Huntington took over the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was the Pirates’ farm system 5.5 years ago, and with a lot more ML talent to sell off, and we’re only just now legitimately likely to top .500. NH’s first drafted pitcher to start a game was Phil Irwin a couple weeks ago – almost 5 full years after Neal’s first draft. Granted, Luhnow is almost certainly a better GM than Huntington, but it’s a long climb.

      • Old Gator - May 6, 2013 at 8:45 PM

        Tex, would you like an expert to lecture you on patience?

        Nyuknyuknyuk….

    • markb2301 - May 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      Dayton Moore nods his head in approval.

  6. darthicarus - May 6, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    The best thing I can say about the 2003 Tigers is having season tickets we often found ourselves with sections all to ourselves. Good times.

  7. royalsretro - May 6, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    The ’91 Indians are an underrated terrible team, because its just before they got really good. Just four hitters on the entire team had an OPS+ over 100. Albert Belle and Carlos Baerga were two of them. Alex Cole was another – and he didn’t hit a single home run. Glenallen Hill was the other and he barely played. They were last in runs scored, last in BA, OBA, SLG, HR and Total Bases. The pitching was decent, with Swindell/Nagy/Candiotti (until Tom was traded to Toronto). Rod Nichols posted a 3.54 ERA and went 2-11. Team shoulda signed Pedro Cerrano to provide some pop.

    The inaugural Padres were terrible too – 52-110. Chris Canizzaro – a catcher who posted a .587 OPS – was their ALL-STAR. Tommy Dean posted a .496 OPS with a .176 batting average and somehow appeared in 101 games.

    I think Houston actually has enough talent to avoid the Mets record, but 110 loses should be within reach.

  8. Old Gator - May 6, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    Surely the Feesh and the Astros can find a minor league ballpark along the Gulf coast of Alabama or Mississippi – roughly equidistant between Macondo and Houston – and play a one-game loser-take-all contest for worst team in beisbol in October, when it won’t distract much from the playoffs. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind if they agreed to use the designated mammoth hunter – it wouldn’t be real baseball anyway.

  9. APBA Guy - May 6, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    I’m still scarred by the ’88 Orioles. Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray, how could they lose 21 games? Also, it was Curt Schilling’s rookie year. Painful to even think about 25 years later.

    • 18thstreet - May 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      And Mike Boddicker was a good pitcher. I would guess injuries to the pitching staff were a big, big problem. Jose Bautista (an average pitcher) lead that team with 170 innings. Only two pitchers made (exactly) 25 starts and another made 24.

      If that team’s healthy, they would not have sucked.

  10. thegreatstoneface - May 6, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    it’d be hard to bet that way, but i think they’ve certainly got it in them. depends on what the front office does during the season, really.

  11. e5tolife - May 6, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    Why can’t these guys still be in our division….

  12. sdelmonte - May 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Houston has to play the Cubs 18 times. That should be nine wins right there.

    • jlovenotjlo - May 6, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      They’re in the AL West now.

      • sdelmonte - May 6, 2013 at 1:56 PM

        D’oH!!

        I sometimes do that. I took ages to remember the Brewers moved, too. And don’t ask me where the Raiders play.

  13. thefrenchyconnection - May 6, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    All they have to do is increase their tWtW and they will be fighting for a division title come the end of summer

  14. aaronmushrush - May 6, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    great read.

    • teamobijuan - May 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      Yeah, wish this guy and the other guy would switch in terms of quantity of articles.

      • tuberippin - May 6, 2013 at 9:36 PM

        You say “the other guy” as though there are only two writers at HBT.

      • teamobijuan - May 7, 2013 at 8:31 AM

        Please don’t play naive.

  15. scoocha - May 6, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    I think Houston will reach at least 115 losses. We had to know this was going to happen by moving a AAAA/NL team to the AL.
    On that note, do you think that the next commissioner will move either Milwaukee (16 years), Colorado (21 years), or Arizona (16 years) over to the AL to replace Houston who had been in the NL for 51 years?
    Here’s a glaring mistake (AL/NL)
    Yankees/Mets
    Royals/Cards
    W Sox/Cubs
    Angels/Dodgers
    A’s/Giants
    Rays/Marlins

    But for some reason the AL now has 2 Texas teams – definitely reeks of an NFL team move but with no real rivalry.

    • JB (the original) - May 6, 2013 at 1:56 PM

      If you’re going to try to consider the Royals and Cardinals as local opposite league “rivals” even though they’re on opposite sides of the state and 250 miles apart, how can you disregard the Tribe and Reds (same scenario, same distance)?

      • mazblast - May 6, 2013 at 5:23 PM

        Having the Indians’ “natural” rival be the Reds leaves the Pirates high and dry. it should be Indians-Pirates and Reds-Tigers.

    • JB (the original) - May 6, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      and the Brewers are the ‘local’ other league rival for the Twins, so they can’t be switched under your synopsis.

    • rohlo - May 6, 2013 at 7:37 PM

      it would have made total sense for the astros to go to the national league west and the diamondbacks to go to the american league west. then the AL/NL RIVALRY WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS.

      yankees/mets
      cubs/whitesox
      angels/dodgers
      a’s/giants
      cardinals/royals
      rays/marlins
      reds/indians
      then
      RANGERS/ASTROS
      PADRES/DBACKS- (geographically and alot of az people live in san diego as where alot of san diego people live in az)
      ROCKIES/MARINERS -(not as close but alot closer than the current interleague mactups of seattle and san diego which makes no sense at all…..

      the only other state where there are tweo teams i nthe same league is in pennsylvania and the phils pirates rivalry has been non-existant.. thats why i hate the rangers so much,becasue nolan ryan and rangers brass pushed for the astros to go to the AL WEST. now there is never the dream of a all texas world series i nthe same city/state as above in most cases.. and who the hell are the rangers to try and push it..the astros have always been the more succesful team in texas anyways..they have more division titles,wild card and playoff appearances and wins than the rangers do! i hope a future commish makes it right and puts houston back in the national league and moves the dbacks to the american league west and puts the stros in the NL west.the dbacks had actually asked selig to move them to the AL west and he said no!!! selig is the worst commish of any sport in history.especially when he made the astros afetr a hurricane fighting for a wild card spot lose a home series against the cubs and move it into the cubs backyard in milwaukee…therw were other options closer!!!

    • natslady - May 7, 2013 at 6:42 AM

      It’s funny that everyone leaves Nats/O’s off these lists. In terms of fan intensity, I guess it isn’t a real “rivalry”, more like an opportunity to see your team within a short drive two extra times.

  16. historiophiliac - May 6, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    I’d like to go on record saying that I really like what the Astros are doing this year. I think more teams should emulate them.

    • darthicarus - May 6, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      I agree, they have a plan & they are sticking to it. In stark contrast are the Marlins who have a plan drawn out of a hat daily by a monkey.

      • aiede - May 6, 2013 at 2:33 PM

        Don’t insult monkeys by comparing them to Jeffrey Loria like that.

  17. gosuhgo - May 6, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    I think they can do it. They’re in a BRUTAL stretch right now. After getting swept in 4 by the Tigs, they play 6 against the Angels and Rangers, followed by a roadtrip to play the Tigers again. No one should be surprised to see a 15ish game losing streak in the near future. That kind of play could be bad enough to get them to make some drastic changes, which will invariably result in even more losing.

  18. dallasstars9 - May 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    As an Angels fan, I would say they’re the worst team in baseball right now. We’ll see what happens with their upcoming series with Houston, but no one is expecting much from them. People are expecting A LOT more from the Angels.

  19. dirtydrew - May 6, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    Shoulda realigned to the Texas league. Not even Major League Baseball. Poor Astros fans. A long way from Biggie, Bagwell, Bell and Burkman. Or even Mike Scott. Sad

  20. 8to80texansblog - May 6, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    The worst part of the Astros being so bad is the owner.. I understand the philosophy and the strategy they are using. Drayton McClain would never bottom out the team and start over so we were stuck with years of mediocrity. Now Luhnow is doing what McClain wouldn’t and if you look at the Nationals, has been fairly successful strategy.

    But Jim Crane needs to get out of the public light and shut the front door. He is holding up the the CSN deal that will allow Houstonians access to see not only the Astros but also the Rockets and Dynamo on tv. Rockets fans went the ENTIRE season without access to games unless they were national tv games on ESPN. He also needs to be quiet when fans complain and ask for more spending on players. It’s natural that fans will complain… let it roll of your shoulders and keep your mouth shut.

    • ewm831 - May 6, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      Drayton McLain was the one that originated and signed the contracts for CSN Houston.

      Just as the move to the AL was not a decision that Jim Crane had anything to do with, it was a condition imposed Selig as part of the sale approval.

      It was all done deal when Jim Crane bought the team. This is the organization that Jim Crane purchased and now has to work with to improve.

      We suffered from some very poor GM’s who gave away our young talent from our farm league for bad trades. Player development in our minor league system also suffered for many years. It now shows, we have had to sell off what we could for as many prospects as possible. Luhnow is a far superior GM and it seems that a much better player development system is in place for our minor league system. I already see some bright spots here and there from some young players. It will be a rough couple of years until we are a decent team. However, in the AL West that may not mean as much as it did in the NL Central.

      So until we can rise to the level of play for the AL we will suffer through loosing seasons.

  21. danfrommv - May 6, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    I’ll bet the ‘Stros are making pretty good money this year with that low payroll, revenue sharing, and luxury tax paying teams.

  22. mazblast - May 6, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    How can you talk about the ’62 Mets without mentioning Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Roger Craig’s 5-24 record?

    And since Willie Mays was mentioned in the article, Happy 82nd, “Say Hey”!

  23. jeffa43 - May 6, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    Verlander was forced to throw 30 pitches in the first and had over 100 in the 7th when he gave up a knock.

    I guess that is supposed to be a “almost no no”

    They will not get no hit twice! It’s too hard, and we have faced Darvish, King Felix, and Verlander.
    They would be the ones who do it.

    Astros are 2nd in MLB in batting average when putting the ball in play.

    Bad article!

  24. cubfan531 - May 6, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Fun fact: That ’62 Mets team ran out Richie Ashburn at second base for two games (including one start).

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