added 9/27/2013 by Bob Hulsey
Back in the 1980s when the popular tunes of the day were actually listenable, Huey Lewis and the News would croon "Sometimes Bad Is Bad", a somewhat subtle jab at the slang of the day when something exceptionally good was "bad" or something exceptionally hot was "cool", etc. The slang led to a lot of confusion among those not "hip" enough to understand what was being said.
Last spring, Astros' General Manager Jeff Luhnow said fans would be "surprised" by the performance of the 2013 Astros. He wisely would not be nailed down on what he meant but most thought he implied the team would be improved over the 107-loss club that performed in 2012.
After a losing skid that has reached 12 games by the time the last series of the season began, the Astros seem destined to finish somewhere around 110 losses, a franchise record and an historic one for a three-year stretch of defeat in the annals of major league baseball.
While puffing their chests about how well the minor league rebuild is coming along, the big league club was going through what could either be viewed as benign neglect or outright tanking.
If one wanted to, one could even say the difference between 2012 and 2013 was pitcher Lucas Harrell. He led the team in wins in 2012 (11-11) and losses in 2013 (6-16) - a five-loss decline.
One could even blame the modest attempts at free agency Luhnow tried last winter. Only Jose Veras (0-4, but 19 saves) worked according to plan. The signings of Philip Humber (0-8), Erik Bedard (4-12), Carlos Pena (.209 BA), Rick Ankiel (.194) and Ronny Cedeno (.220) would largely be labeled failures.
Perhaps more embarrassing was the case of Houston native Scott Kazmir, the failed former prospect whom the Astros scouted when he was pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters last season. The decision scientists passed on Kazmir, who currently sports a 9-9 record and a fairly healthy 4.14 ERA with Cleveland this year. He recently tossed seven shutout innings at the Astros. The Indians risked just one million on Kazmir for this season and only if he made the roster.
So we can surmise that, through quantity as much as quality, Luhnow and friends can pick minor league talent. Whether they can spot big league talent is still an open question.
Last September, the spurned Tony DeFrancesco was leading the Astros to a 15-15 finish as manager but Luhnow insisted on hiring Bo Porter who has led Houston to a 7-17 September mark so far.
The 2013 edition of the Astros has already set franchise marks in losses, errors and strikeouts. They have a 50-50 chance of breaking the big league mark for strikeouts in a season currently held by the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks (1529) - and that's with a DH all year instead of the pitchers batting.
I can almost hear the "but, but, but" of Luhnow defenders who will look at the 2013 Astros and see potential. Indeed potential is there. Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock appeared to be sound pitching rotation building blocks and the still-young Jordan Lyles has spurts of progress. Jason Castro and Jose Altuve may not ever be superstars but they have proven they are big league talents who can someday help the franchise turn a corner.
Matt Dominguez took a big step forward this year and we hope to see even better from him next year. Jonathan Villar gets on base regularly even though he sometimes still makes amazingly dumb plays in the field and on the bases.
Still, there's a lot of chaff among the kernels of wheat that still need sorting out and that is going to be the next challenge for Luhnow. Simply waiting for George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, Carlos Correa and Mark Appel to arrive will not, alone, rescue a dispirited fan base. A proactive infusion of solid veterans will be needed, particularly in the outfield and the bullpen for 2014 to have even a modest happy ending.
Maybe next spring when Luhnow says fans will be "surprised" at how the team plays, we'll get some firm benchmarks for improvement. As it is, they could improve by ten wins next year and still become a 100-loss entity. That would be redefining the word "improved".