The Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics, 4-2, Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston. It was my first visit to the downtown stadium and it is a fine place to watch a game.
Not that many others felt that way on this particular evening. Apparently, fans have given up on the 2014 season. That is understandable if you are a Houston baseball backer. Like maybe since 2005 when the Astros made their only World Series appearance in the history of the franchise.
The announced attendance was a bit more than 17,000, but that was a generous mathematical position to take.
100 Loss Run
The Astros have lost at least 100 games for three seasons in a row (106, 107 and 111). That is not only bad, but is in contention for historically bad (see New York Mets early 1960s and Philadelphia Phillies late 1930s, early 1940s as reference points). I overheard one fan mulling the status of this season and he said, "As long as they don’t lose 100."
That is not much to hope for, but that would represent improvement. After Tuesday the Astros are 56-77. Houston has improved this season. In terms of this year alone the Astros are not going to finish high in the standings. They are not in the running for a wild-card playoff berth. But compared to the depressing results of recent years there is evidence to suggest that things are at last on the upswing.
The victory in the second game of a four-game series against the A’s, by most assessments one of the best, if not the best team in the American League, was no milestone, no demarcation line, no turning point game. But the lineup on display on a late August night might have been a sneak preview.
Team of Nobodies
It is difficult to imagine a big-league club putting a less experienced team on the field for the contest. The starting lineup read this way: Left-fielder Robbie Grossman, second-baseman Jose Altuve, designated hitter Chris Carter, center-fielder Dexter Fowler, catcher Jason Castro, shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, first-baseman Jon Singleton, right-fielder Jake Marisnick, third-baseman Gregorio Petit, and Dallas Keuchel pitching.
There are almost no household names in there, even in Houston households. At the start of the season this would be called the Astros’ AAA starting lineup. It is a lineup short on experience and age. To be honest, it is really next year’s starting lineup a year early. The Astros are experimenting, promoting guys left and right to the majors to gain them experience to examine the team’s future.
Grossman is 24, played less than half a season last year and is on pace to play about half a season this year. Altuve, also 24, is the real gem, with a .330-plus average in the hunt for a batting title and with a few seasons on his resume. Carter is 27 and will be a full-fledged star if he stops striking out. Fowler is 28. Castro is 27. Gonzalez is 25.
Rookie Singleton is 22. Marisnick, 23, has not played more than 40 games in a season. Petit is 29, but experience-wise recorded a big-league high when he played in his 15th game this year for Houston recently. Keuchel, 26, who features a Smith Brothers beard, is 10-9 and has already set a career high for innings pitched in a season.
The point being that the Astros seem to be amassing a certain amount of promising talent that could pay dividends as early as next season. Houston could be the Kansas City Royals of 2015, a team rising from the depths.
The Astros displayed just that kind of potential when Carter smacked his 32nd homer of the season in the 8th inning to repel the A’s Tuesday night. Could be a sign of things to come and just maybe Minute Maid will get a lot more crowded next season.