Sometimes it's too bad Spring Training doesn't count
Year after year, in the recent past, I've watched the Houston Astros fall apart early, before the season even begins, in Spring Training. And every year, I state, "well at least it's only Spring Training!"
This is the first year in my life where I've thought it would be nice if Spring Training counted for something. Because of an interesting combination of factors, this year's Spring Training has been intriguing, hopefully prescient, and worth looking at before the regular season starts, this year on April 6.
Factor 1: The Astros were bad last year – This actually has more of an impact on Spring Training than it perhaps should, but last year's Astros season was not just bad, it was their worst ever, a historically bad season. So any result better than dead last in Spring Training would be at least a little noteworthy.
Factor 2: The Astros are generally awful in Spring Training – Last year, they ended 11-24, at the very bottom. The year before, 13-15 put them in the bottom ten teams. 2009: bottom three. Even in 2005, when they visited the World Series, they ended Spring Training with a losing record. In the last twenty-eight seasons, they have ended Spring Training with a winning record only ten times, and have ended below .400 seven times. The only teams to do worse by this metric in the same time frame round out a list of awful MLB teams: Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and Washington Nationals
Factor 3: This is a completely different Astros team – For the most part, in recent history, Spring Training has been even more meaningless by basically serving as practice for a team that was mostly the same as the team when the season ended the year before. This year, there are a lot of changes: new ownership, new front office staff, new team members. And that means that this Spring Training means just a little more.
Combine those factors, and it's easy to see why the Astros, who are currently sitting at .500 for Spring Training, are intriguing me this year. Maybe it's just my normal optimism concerning this team, but this is a situation where a new team is doing pretty well on a stage where they usually perform horribly.
Does this mean the Astros will go .500 this year? Almost certainly not. The odds of that happening are near-astronomical. But does it mean they have a good shot at not finishing as the absolute worst team again? Hopefully the answer to that is yes. And if Spring Training actually counted for something, they'd have a good head start on that goal.