I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago last August to watch the Astros and Cubs finish off what was sure to be a pretty terrible 2012 campaign for both teams. I was sitting in the outfield bleachers with my friend Anna (she’s a Cubs fan so “friend” is a loose term. Just kidding. Kind of) wearing an Astros shirt and hat and began talking to the people sitting around me (all Cubs fans). It blew their minds that there were actual Astros fans; they just couldn’t believe it. I explained that I was from Houston and that made a little more sense to them, but they still couldn’t understand why I would travel all the way to Chicago to watch a bunch of guys that they had never heard of swing and miss (a lot). I’ve been asked this question quite a few times recently. People ask “Why don’t you just become a Rangers fan?” or “Why not just pick another team until the Astros are better” I’ll tell you why: Being an Astros fan is part of my identity, part of who I am. I can’t change it. I’ve grown up an Astros fan and will always be an Astros fan. I could become a Rangers fan or move to Chicago or New York and become a fan of one of those teams, but no matter what I do, how many games I go to or how many championships they win, they will never mean as much to me as the Astros do.
Houston Astros: I’ll try to keep this as short as possible because otherwise this could end up being a 20,000-word dissertation on the state of the Astros franchise. Most people look at this Astros team and see a lineup of rookies and no-name veterans who couldn’t make it with any club that had a chance of contending so the Astros picked them up. And unfortunately, I don’t really have an argument against that. Yet. Let’s play a game: I’m going to name three projected Opening Day starters according to mlb.com, stop me if you’ve heard of any of them (Astros fans don’t count). Ready? J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez, Justin Maxwell. Do you know who any of those guys are? That is the projected Astros outfield for the 2013 season. If you follow baseball closely you may have heard of guys like Jose Altuve or Bud Norris but the casual baseball fan couldn’t name 5 players on the team. This season is going to be rough, there’s no other way to put it. Will it be as rough as last season? I sure hope not. I love what the new management has done in just 1 year and am excited for the future but the Astros have to navigate a very deep AL West without completely embarrassing themselves. I think the team does have a chance to surprise some people and win more than the 59 games that they’re projected to but won’t be in the playoff picture after April 7. Fortunately, Lunhow has worked hard to stockpile prospects and draft picks over the last year so the farm system looks great and I think the Astros could be right back in the thick of things as early as 2016 (“early” being a relative term). As much as it hurts me to type the following words, I think the current talent on the field will have the Astros finishing around 65-97. Anything more is just a bonus this season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: This team is stacked. Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson? It’s no wonder they’re favored to win the World Series this season. Because the Angels are in such a difficult division, it’s no guarantee that they win but I think they are as good of a bet as any team. The thing I’m most interested in watching for is seeing how Mike Trout’s sophomore campaign goes. His rookie season was one of historic proportions so I’m curious to see how he’ll fair now that pitchers know what to expect. Barring major injuries to 2 or more starters, I just don’t see this team losing more than 70 games. I like them to finish 93-69.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s are one of the most fun teams to watch in all of baseball. Billy Beane, the GM, has done a fantastic job of keeping a very competitive team on the field year in and year out even though he doesn’t have much money to work with. The A’s aren’t filled with stars at any position (with the possible exception of Yoenis Cespedes in LF) but aren’t particularly weak anywhere either – they are just a real solid team. The pitching rotation lost Brandon McCarthy in a trade to the Diamondbacks but remains very solid and young with the likes of Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker. The experts don’t project the A’s to be as efficient as last season nor win as many games, but they will definitely put a competitive product on the field and come to play everyday. They’ll finish 85-75, higher than most people believe, and be in the race until at least mid-September.
Seattle Mariners: Seattle locked down my favorite player in all of baseball, “King” Felix Hernandez through 2019 for a mere $175 million dollars. That’s a pretty penny to pay but he is one of the top-5 pitchers in the game and is only 26 years old. The team should finally be able to provide some run support behind him this year with the additions of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales to the lineup. The M’s also have one of the deepest pitching staffs behind King Felix, not to mention 2 pitching prospects in the minors that look to make a splash in The Show sometime this season. Will they be able to hang with the big boys of the AL West – the Rangers and Angles? I think their young guys need another year of seasoning but come 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Seattle make a strong push for a playoff spot. This year, I think they finish around 81-81, but the future is bright.
Texas Rangers: As much as I hate to say it, they’re going to be good again. Real good. They did lose Josh Hamilton to the Angels and Michael Young to the Phillies, and signed Lance Berkman for $10 million (HAHA), but should continue to be an offensive juggernaut nonetheless. As an Astros fan that despises Lance Berkman because he quit on the Astros and got fat when they weren’t doing well, I couldn’t be happier he signed with Texas. Reports are that he came into spring camp in shape, but he almost always misses half of a season because of injuries and I don’t see why that trend won’t continue this year. I give him until the first week of May before he lands on the DL with a strained calf or oblique. Is it clear I don’t like Berkman? Aside from Berkman, Kinsler, Andrus, and Adrian Beltre should continue to be productive and the young Profar should get some opportunities to showcase his skills as well. Even though the lineup is as “depleted” as it has been in a few years (I view the Astros lineup as truly “depleted,” Rangers fans have been spoiled), I think their rotation is as good as it has been in that span. Yu Darvish should continue to improve and contend for the most strikeouts in the AL, and Matt Harrison and Derek Holland will continue to be solid game in and game out. The Rangers would be favorites to win in just about any other division but because of the quality of competition, I think they finish 62-100, 3 games behind the Astros. Just kidding. As much as I want that to happen, I peg them around 86-76.
Final Regular Season Standings:
1) Los Angeles Angels (93-69)
2) Texas Rangers (86-76)
3) Oakland A’s (85-77)
4) Seattle Mariners (81-81)
5) Houston Astros (65-97)
The Astros are bad right now, it’s no secret, but times will get better. They have to. This is the lowest of lows, but what is sunshine without a little rain? The hardships faced on the journey just make reaching the destination all the more sweet. You might think I’m stretching the truth when I say I get emotional thinking about the Astros winning the World Series, but I’m not. It’s 100% true. I know they’re a long way off from a championship but when the time comes, you better believe I’ll be in the stadium wearing an Astros shirt and hat just like I will be on Opening Day this year and I have every Opening Day for the last 8 years. If you quit on your team when they’re bad, you were never a true fan. It might be a few years but the Astros will turn things around, and when they do, I’ll be there right alongside all of the “fans” that decided to support the Astros when they made the playoffs. And I’ll tell you something else, while the bandwagoners may be happy to see the Astros won the World Series, but it will mean different things to us. It’ll be more than just happiness to me. It will feel like I’ve finished the gauntlet, spent my time in Shawshank, crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of [poop] smelling foulness and finally ended up in paradise. It will mean more to me than they will ever know. I’ve quoted it before but to stick with the Shawshank theme: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” That’s why I’m an Astros fan.