The Astros are off to a rollicking 1-8 start, finally getting a win yesterday against the Cardinals after opening the season with eight consecutive losses. They aren’t losing a bunch of close ones, either. Through the first nine games, Houston has allowed 45 runs while only scoring 19. According their Pythagorean Win expectation, they have earned their 1-8 record. But are the Astros really this bad? After all, they do have former All-Stars such as Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt and, when he returns from injury, Lance Berkman.
However, even before Berkman’s DL stint, the Astros were expected to be terrible. CHONE’s “optimistic” projection forecasted the Astros for 72 wins this season. CAIRO, another projection system,
saw the Astros being even worse in 2010, at 69-93.
The Astros have been heading this direction for a while. While Wandy Rodriguez and Hunter Pence are good players in their prime seasons, and Michael Bourn is a useful piece, Berkman and Oswalt aren’t the forces they were a few years ago, and Carlos Lee’s bat is heavily offset by his poor fielding. (And right now, Lee is "hitting" .086 with zero extra-base hits, so he can't even fall back on his bat.) Other than that core, there is altogether too much reliance on players best suited for the part-time duty (Kaz Matsui) and others who may not be suited for the major leagues (J.R. Towles). The pitching isn’t quite as disastrous, but that’s only relatively speaking -- the drop-off after Oswalt and Rodriguez is sharp, and the bullpen is nothing special, despite general manager Ed Wade’s predictably silly $15-million investment in Brandon Lyon this past winter.
Despite the fact that it is only the second week of the season, it is no longer early in Houston. With a 1-8 start to the season, the Astros would have to win 59 percent of their games the rest of the way to end up with 90 wins on the season. This team simply isn’t good enough to play at that level for five and a half months. It’s too early to say that they’re definitely the worst team in baseball, but it's not too early to write off their playoff chances.
Matt Klaassen is a writer for FanGraphs.