Okay, before you shout me down, consider five reasons it’s possible — possible — the Astros could win 90 games in 2015 and could make the playoffs. And, no, MLB didn’t expand the season to 180 games.
Granted, I did say could, so while this isn’t an outright prediction, getting to 88-90 wins in 2015 should not an impossible task. In fact, few organizations are better positioned for back-to-back significant improvements than Houston.
1. The Astros were better than 70-92 in 2014.
- When you consider the injuries alone, it’s easy to look back and see how the Astros might have even approached .500 in 2014. Astros’ players spent 902 games on the disabled list this season. You can argue — and many of you will — that somehow Jeff Luhnow should have known before signing certain players. Yes, there was a risk with Jesse Crain, but the downside on many others was unforeseen and could not have been anticipated. Matt Albers and George Springer for a full season would have made a significant difference.
- And, yes, that bullpen was a huge factor with 25 blown saves. No major league team had more than Houston, no matter how you stack ’em up.
2. Breakthrough is coming.
- Chicken Little already predicted the sky falling. And, it did. Now, the talent is finally rising to the top. When you consider the Astros had a 19-game improvement this season with all the warts, head-scratchers, dysfunctional manager, PR debacles and more, you have to recognize that a huge breakthrough is coming soon. It’s possible the breakthrough won’t happen until mid-season and, yes, it’s even possible the real breakthrough won’t occur until 2016, but with players like Mark Appel, Carlos Correa, Colin Moran, Jon Singleton and even possibly Domingo Santana on the near-term list, the uptick may be closer that you realize. Or prepared to admit.
3. The 2015 schedule.
- Houston will play 24 games in September against the AL West, so the schedule is set up for the Astros. It allows Houston at least half a season to get all the bugs out and prepare for a late-season run against the teams that really matter. Oakland and Texas will likely be re-tooling in 2015.
4. Luhnow knows.
- If he’s really worth his salt — and you can debate that if you’d like — Luhnow is learning from his failures. When he hired Bo Porter, Luhnow handed him the coaches he (Lunnow) wanted. This time around, A. J. Hinch hired coaches he was familiar with. That should allow for better trust in the dugout and the front office. If he’s smarter, he’ll have fewer misses — or perhaps more hits — this winter. Moreover, you can bet Luhnow won’t gamble so much on the bullpen this winter. Will he change the minor league tandem system? Probably not, but he’s likely to change his approach on other matters such as contract negotiations and communication with his manager.
5. Core players.
- A couple of years ago, I wrote that Houston needed only to add 2-3 core players a year during its reconstruction. In 2014, Houston added Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, Scott Feldman and, one could argue, Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter. If Houston adds 2-3 additional core contributors next season and either Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez or Singleton breaks out, where would that leave the team? Significant improvement, that’s where. And possibly the playoffs and 88-90 wins.
And, yes, a 20-game improvement is not unprecedented. It’s even occurred in your lifetime. Here are a few times.
- Tampa Bay. 31 games.
- 2007: 66-96.
- 2008: 97-65.
- Atlanta: 29 games.
- 1990: 65-97.
- 1991: 94:68.
- Seattle: 25 games.
- 2000: 91-71.
- 2001: 116-46.
- Detroit: 29 games.
- 2003: 43-119.
- 2004: 72-90.
You may determine that winning 88-90 games and making the playoffs isn’t probable. You may even suggest the idea is hogwash. But the Astros had absolutely no luck in 2014. If Houston gets even a few breaks next season, some of the kids come along and Luhnow takes care of roster business this off-season, Houston could be picking at the other end of the draft in June 2016.