Astros fans aren't buying that optimistic rhetoric. In a comment on the
Indeed, a death notice on Houston's season may not be far off.
Already it will take a precedent-setting comeback for the Astros to make the playoffs. Of the 24 teams to start a season 0-7 (or worse) in the modern era, none have ever rallied to reach the postseason and only one -- the 1983 Astros, who began 0-9 but recovered to finish 85-77 -- managed more than 81 wins.
This year's edition of the Astros will need to start that record turnaround very soon. While a seven-game losing streak makes for a small sample size, the club has already fallen into some bad habits. Houston has shown non-existent pop (two home runs) and plate discipline (six walks and a .245 on-base percentage) and an alarming inability to turn balls in play into outs, as measured by
The Astros have managed the fewest runs scored in the majors (13) -- as many as the Diamondbacks scored in the fourth inning on Sunday -- and have allowed 42, tied for fourth most in the majors. The absence of first baseman
Consider that 20 individual players have at least as many walks as the Astros, who aren't known for filling the basepaths on even the good days -- the team OBP hasn't ranked higher than 20th since 2004. And even the more established hitters are struggling, as All-Star outfielders
Following Sunday's loss to the Phillies, Mills approached every player in the clubhouse and told them to keep battling. On Monday general manager
"I wouldn't call [our start] a concern, but the fact is we just haven't swung the bats well," Wade said. "But our feeling is that the guys who are struggling have pretty good track records, and this is a slump that teams normally hit at some point in the season.
"It's always magnified at the beginning of the season, and it's magnified even more because this is becoming thematic with the franchise -- 'The Astros always get off to slow starts.'"
In fact, the Astros' recent early-season track record (starting the past three years 1-6, 3-8 and 1-5 though rallying for 86 wins in 2008), Berkman's injury, Mills' new tenure as manager and the schedule that pitted them against four aces (
Wade said players always look at a new manager out of the corner of their eyes, looking to see how he reacts to adversity, but added that Mills "has been very consistent since the first day of spring training. They clearly realize where the struggle exists right now, and it falls back on them to perform at the level that they're capable of performing at. I think they'll respond sooner rather than later."
The 1995 Reds won the NL Central after starting 0-6 -- one of just two teams to make the playoffs after losing their first six games -- but they had the luxury of a proven veteran lineup that was merely sidetracked by the abridged spring training following the previous season's strike. Shortstop
"I remember we had a 'Let's not panic, we're not where we need to be yet' attitude," said Larkin, now an analyst for the MLB Network. "Without Berkman on that team for the Astros, that's going to be a tough hole. On our team in '95 we had some really good players. We didn't have a lot of new, non-established guys."
Houston, meanwhile, is essentially breaking in players at several key positions, including catcher J
Larkin also said that he worries about the Astros' prospects because he hasn't seen a similarly dominant personality emerge on the club since
"I don't know if there is an identifiable leader of that team," Larkin said.
Wade said it's much too early to "go out and change the composition of the roster," but the Astros would be smart to consider trading one of their veteran stars -- Berkman, Lee or starter
Even before 2009 began, one NL scout opined that the Astros were best served if they were to "trade Oswalt to a contender to get some young players and reshuffle the deck." It's more than a year later and the Astros, who went 74-88 in '09, don't seem any closer to contending. Including Oswalt's club option, both he and Lee are signed through 2012, so they'd likely fetch some value if traded to re-stock the farm system.
Yes, Houston's got a problem. And it may have already cost them their season.