5 Reasons Houston Astros Will Thrive in the AL Next Season
Switching to the AL West is better than staying in the NL Central? It sounds crazy, but it may actually benefit the team.
The division is loaded with talent; the reigning two-time AL champion Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will compete for the division title for years to come. The Oakland A's are hot all of a sudden, and the Seattle Mariners are in a rebuilding stage.
While the best teams in baseball are in the American League, the league also has some of the weaker teams in the majors.
The team has already begun trading some key players (Carlos Lee), and they may continue to deal as next week's trade deadline approaches. The team will enter next season with young players looking to stick in the big leagues.
For a team that lost 106 games a season ago, moving to the league that has dominated interleague play may not sound like a great idea. However, it is time for a change.
The Astros will be better off in the AL next season for several reasons, and switching leagues will look like a good decision.
All stats are from MLB.com.
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A big reason the Astros will be better off next year in the AL is their travel schedule.
Playing in the NL Central, they usually play around half of their games within the division. That means numerous trips to every other team in their division.
With Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in their division, it is a long trip to make multiple times a year to play inside the NL Central. St. Louis is geographically the closest team to Houston, so they do not have any short trips.
The Astros will have the Texas Rangers in their division next season, and it will also make their interleague schedule easier. Instead of having Texas as their natural rivals, they will now see them on a regular basis throughout the season.
The rest of the division is not as close as Arlington, but they will benefit from not having to travel when they play the Rangers. Of course, Texas is not an easy team to beat.
Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle are lengthy trips, but they at least have one team in their division close to them.
The Astros are 10-41 on the road this season, so flying all over the place so often may have an impact on the team. They are 24-21 at home, and they will host teams that are making their west coast trips.
While the overall division travel may be about the same, it is important that they will get a break from traveling when they play the Rangers.
Familiar Interleague Schedule
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When they shift to the American League, the Houston Astros should be seeing some familiar faces in 2013.
In 2011, the National League Central was matched up against the American League East. This year, the NL Central drew the AL Central. I could be wrong, but the AL West will see the NL Central next season.
The Astros would be familiar with the pitching staffs in the division, so they should play well in interleague play. Teams usually play better having faced pitchers more times rather than seeing new ones.
Although they currently sit 21.5 games out of first place, they have played the best against the NL Central. They do play them more times than any other division, but their winning percentage (39 percent) inside the division is higher than it is against any other division.
They own a 7-11 record against the NL East and an 8-22 record against teams in the NL West.
Houston does not have a great record against their division rivals, but they at least play better against them than against other teams.
Playing against the NL Central would allow the Astros to follow a normal routine when they play interleague games. They have established normal schedules when they play against these teams.
Familiarity is important in baseball, so playing the NL Central would be beneficial to them in 2013.
Greater Opportunity to Reach Playoffs
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Just based off of numbers, the Astros have a better chance of reaching the postseason in the AL West.
People can argue about it being a tougher division than the NL Central, but it is technically easier for them to make the postseason in their new division.
Currently, Houston is in the only six-team division in baseball. Before the season even begins, they know they have to beat five teams in the standings while others have to only beat three or four.
Last season, the NL Central produced the two NLCS teams. This year, two different teams are leading the division. This division is very competitive, and it is never clear as to which teams will be contending by the end of the season.
Sports Illustrated's Matt Gagne is one of many people who criticize the NL Central. The bottom of the division is bad, but it is not possible to be the worst division in baseball when they produced the final two teams standing in the National League.
The Astros will move from a six-team division to a five-team division, so they will start the season with a better chance of reaching the postseason. Now that there are two wild-card spots per league, they have an even better shot of playing in October.
They will have tough teams in their new division, but they statistically have a better chance of making the postseason in the AL West.
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Young players often struggle, but they can also be surprise teams. In 2013, the Houston Astros will be without many veterans and need young players to step up.
ESPN.com lists the Astros as the third-youngest team in the league, and they are getting even younger by trading away veterans.
Young players often play with urgency, so they can be a very dangerous team next season. Teams can go through growing pains with inexperienced players, but the Astros have already gone through the worst of it last season.
Now, All-Star Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie can give the team a boost on offense. Lowrie was having a good season but is now on the disabled list.
If the team can get more out of their young pitchers next season, this team can be dangerous. While teams tend to struggle when facing a pitcher for the first time, Houston's young pitchers should have an edge at the beginning of next season.
The league can adjust to the new pitchers quickly, so they will need the players to mature quickly.
After the Reds surprised everyone in 2010 and the Pirates did the same this season, the Astros could be the next young team to shock the league.
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This will only come into play if the team contends next season.
Currently, ESPN.com has the Astros near the bottom of the league in attendance. With the switch to the AL, the team should see better attendance next year.
The attendance figures have not helped the team keep expensive players, so they would benefit from switching leagues because of attendance numbers.
Interleague games usually bring in more fans than normal, so Houston fans will want to come see new players and teams in 2013. For at least the first season, the team should see a spike in attendance and bring in more money.
The fans in Arlington will also be able to travel to Houston multiple times in a season, and that will also help bring in money. It should create a good rivalry and generate revenue.
The extra money will be a factor if the team is in contention at the trade deadline. If they manage to compete next season, they will have money to spend and prospects to deal.
With money available, the team can make a deal for a pricey veteran at the deadline to make a run at the postseason.
Minute Maid Park will be busier next year, and the team will be able to improve their roster with more revenue to work with.