By Jason Passehl
It’s the bottom of the ninth.
Three on, two outs...
Bryan LaHair hits a single to right. Darwin Barney comes around to score.
Game over, and so ended another rough season for the Astros. The team finished with a league-worst 55-107 record, one loss more than the year prior. Not exactly what the fans were hoping for, an unfit ending for Houston's tenure in the National League.
Like that, the era of Astros baseball we all knew was over.
Through an offseason of adjustments, major adjustments… the team began moving forward in a new direction. And believe it or not, there's hope for a much more inspiring season. Sometimes you need to take a step backward, to take two steps forward. That's what this upcoming season will be about, and the entire team is onboard, willing to take chances.
Moving to the American League changes everything. The obvious ways: the teams they’ll play, having a D.H., the All-Star team they’ll play on.
And the less obvious ways: the toll on their pitchers, the time the games are played, learning new opposing pitchers and hitters. Houston is going to have to learn how to play in a very different league.
Spring training was a very productive period for the 'Stros this offseason. After making multiple trades, signing a lot of new players and giving young players opportunities. It was easy to see that the team should be improved in a lot of areas. The team was the 21st lowest ranked team in HR and dead last (30th) in runs scored. And while it's not a fair representation of what you'll see during the season… the team has been at the top of most offensive categories in Grapefruit League play.
Jose Altuve has been paving the way for younger players on the roster to stand out and make names for themselves. He'll be batting lead-off, and it looks like he's ready to step up to the task. Providing strong numbers (.290 AVG, 80 R, 33 SB) in his first full season, Altuve will be looked upon as the catalyst to spark this team this season. Rick Ankiel, one of the teams newly signed veterans, has been raking in Spring Training, giving hope that the team will be ready for the D.H. position in the lineup.
There's a lot of players to look out for, and storylines to follow heading into Opening Night against the team from Arlington. How will Carlos Pena factor into the team? Will his veteran leadership push other players forward? Will he be knocking dingers all over the ballpark? The uncertainty of a ‘mostly’ new assembled pitching staff. Will this be Lucas Harrell's breakout season? Can Bud Norris be the ace of the staff? Will guys like Phil Humber, Brad Peacock and Alex White live up to their potential? There's a lot we're going to find out in the early months of the season.
Look, I'm not saying they'll beat the Angels or Rangers on a nightly basis, but there is hope for the future, my friends.
Hope that the team's beginning to head for brighter days, back to the days of old. In another complete overhaul, the Astros color scheme even changed back to blue and orange. A reflection of what the front office hopes to bring back to the team. A sense of nostalgia, history… and of pride. This isn't just a mental, or philosophical adjustment, it's a complete physical metamorphosis.
And what about Bo Porter?
Don’t forget the manager Astros owner Jim Crane hired to lead his team into a new era. A quick-witted, intelligent, student of the game; a man who leads by example and expects the most out of every player. He'll bring a fiery passion to the position that isn't often seen in the common elderly manager. Unproven as a manager at the Major League level, Porter is planning to make a fast impression around the league. At the beginning of this baseball season, he’ll be looking for the Astros to strike fast, and strike hard.
The youth of the team, and the attitude of the manager will be what propels this team to the next level. This isn't the finish line, but it's a strong sign the Astros are ready to join the race. Greatness always begins modestly, and this is where it's going to begin. The year, 2013; the place, Minute Maid Park. Baseball will be played hard. Stars will be made, and hope will be inspired.
Oh and there's this dude named Orbit too! He's pretty cool. If you’re not familiar with him, he's big, he's green, he's furry. Kind of hard to miss.