Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Astros have moved to the American League West. The Cubs will see them anyway.
The Houston Astros have been historically bad the last two seasons, setting a franchise record for losses with 106 in 2011 (their first-ever 100-loss year) and breaking it last year with 107, thanks to the Cubs, who defeated them on the last day of the season. It was the first time two 100+ loss teams had met after they had already lost 100 games since 1962.
Even with that horrendousness, the Cubs went just 8-7 against Houston each of those two seasons, and lost a series to them at Wrigley both years, including that season-ending series in 2012. The Astros won just 20 games on the road last year, winning just four road series: one each in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and two in Chicago (one against the White Sox at the Cell, and that Wrigley series).
This is the background to saying that the teardown and rebuild of the newly-minted American League Astros goes even deeper than the Cubs rebuild. This Houston team could be worse than last year's. They have acquired exactly one major-league player in the offseason: former Cub Carlos Pena, who will serve as their DH and play some first base. Pena's Cubs season produced an .819 OPS and 123 OPS+ with 28 home runs and 101 walks, so it was at least decent. He was pretty bad last year in a return to the Rays; his OPS dropped to .684 and OPS+ to 94. Only Adam Dunn prevented him from leading the AL in strikeouts; Pena K'd 187 times in 497 at-bats. He turns 35 in May. He's not likely to get any better.
The Astros have one quality major-league player, Jose Altuve, and a couple others who would be OK players on other teams: Tyler Greene, J.D. Martinez and Matt Dominguez. Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ would be fifth starters for almost any other team; they'll be the three top guys for manager Bo Porter's Astros. (Pictured above is Erik Bedard, in camp on a NRI. He might make the rotation, in which case you can start a pool on when he'll head to the DL.)
Porter, who played briefly for the Cubs in the 1990s, will have these guys playing hard. But they will not win very many games. They could struggle to be better than the 1962 Mets or 2003 Tigers, the only teams in the expansion era that failed to win 50 games. They're in a much tougher division and must play many games two time zones away from their home base in Central time.
They do have spiffy new uniforms and a "new" logo that echoes the logo they used in the early 1970s. They'll look sharp. They probably won't play very well. Here's hoping the Cubs sweep them in their visit to Wrigley Field, June 21-22-23.
Tomorrow, we'll have a look at the Los Angeles Angels.