Twice in the last fourteen major league seasons the Houston Astros had nearly the same record. In 2000 the first year at what is now known as Minute Maid Park the Astros fell to 90 losses and out of pennant contention after being in the post season each of the two previous years. Last year the Astros rose to a similar record after having lost 100 or more games for a franchise three straight seasons. The final record is the only thing those two teams had in common.
In 2000 the Astros had the franchises all time best offensive team. They set a new National League record when the clubbed 249 home runs. They scored 938 runs which was second best in the league. Their team .278 batting average was also 2nd best. They struck out 1129 times (6.96 per game) and walked 673 times (4.15 per game.)
The 2000 Astros had a team on base percentage of .361 and a team slugging percentage of .447. Four regulars hit .300 or better with Lance Berkman, one of the top subs hitting 21 homers and batting .297. Only Richard Hidalgo (110) and Jeff Bagwell (107) struck out as much as 100 times but the off set that by also hitting 47 and 44 home runs.
So why was such a powerhouse only 72-90? Pitching…or lack of it. The team ERA was worst in the NL at 5.62. They gave up more runs than they scored.
Even so the glory of the new ballpark and all that offensive punch pushed the club to a home attendance of 3-million, 56 thousand, 139.
Now consider the 2014 Astros who improved to reach the record of 70-92. They achieved mainly because the pitching was much better than the 2000 team offered. The club ERA at 4.14, while still only 12th best in the AL was tremendously more successful than what the 2000 team produced. The only thing keeping the 2014 Astros from being better was what the 2000 team did not lack at all– hitting.
In 2014 the Astros team batting average was only .242–last in the AL. The on base percentage was a woeful .309 and slugging percentage only .383. While Jose Altuve was the only regular to hit over .300 he went all the way to produce Houston’s first batting champion in either league. The 2014 Astros struck out 1442 times (8.9 per game) and walked only 495 times (3.06 per game). Seven players struck out 100 or more times with Chris Carter fanning 182 and Jason Castro 151. Others had some extremely high rates, but did not play as many games.
In 2001 the Astros got things together well enough with better pitching to win a post season spot again. Can the 2015 Astros improve their offense enough to reach .500 and maybe contend? Is it easier to improve pitching with trades, signings and young hard throwers? Is improving hitting without major free agent expenditures and block buster trades possible? That will be the test for the 2015 Astros– to prove that improvement from within and the acquisition with some less than star, but experienced talent can put more runs on the scoreboard than in 2014. It won’t easy or even logical to expect in some ways huge improvement, but that is what the spring is for– optimism and hope.