June 7, 2012
On the Beat
Astros Find New Orbit
So much about the Astros is new. In their case, new is good.
Houston businessman Jim Crane bough the team from Drayton McLane last December. Jeff Luhnow, the top aide to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, was hired as GM. The Astros had only two players in their Opening Day lineup—first baseman Carlos Lee and third baseman Chris Johnson—who started in last year's opener. The Astros will be switching leagues next year, shifting to the American League West from the National League Central. They added plenty of talent to their farm system during the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft this week by selecting Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick, and a big arm in Lance McCullers Jr. in the supplemental first round.
Nine losses in Houston’s last 11 games have dulled some of the shine from a surprisingly good start and dropped the Astros' record to 24-32. However, these Astros are a far sight better than last year's club, which went 56-106, posting the first 100-loss season in the franchise's 50-year history.
The Astros job reportedly scared off some GM candidates. The deep fall of the franchise and the daunting move to the AL led more than one baseball person to say the task might be impossible. However, Luhnow didn't hesitate when offered the job, boldly saying the Astros would field a competitive club in 2012 and not be nearly as bad as many pundits predicted. So far, he has proven to be right.
"They're a totally different club," said a scout who regularly sees the Astros. "They play with a lot more fire, and they really care. They make some mistakes because they have a young club, but all in all, they play the game with a certain degree of sharpness. They definitely aren't pushovers. I like what they are doing there."
Said Luhnow, "It started in spring training. Obviously you can only learn so much from your workouts, but once we started playing games you could tell that these guys, as a group, were energized and competitive. After a successful spring, we were able to take that right into the season. We have the youngest team in the major leagues, but they're playing as a unit; they're playing hard and their mentality is that we have a chance to win every night. Once you start to believe you can win, it makes a big difference."