The Houston Astros bumble into Tuesday's action with a league-worst .325 winning percentage and a last-place standing in the NL Central. With outfielder Carlos Lee and lefty Wandy Rodriguez already shipped out of H-Town, the 'Stros don't have much to look forward to as the tail end of the MLB season sweeps in.
Come 2013, however, things will look a little different.
Under new team owner Jim Crane, the Astros will pack their bags for the AL West next year, leaving the NL Central to round out what currently sits as a six-team division. With a paltry payroll and a fresh change of scenery, Houston stands to be an immensely improved ballclub in coming seasons.
While fans have been hesitant and even reluctant to embrace a new league, the AL should do wonders for the Astros.
True, the West is one of baseball's most cutthroat divisions, and Houston leaves behind rich tradition, unique culture and historic rivalries in the National League.
But the Astros stand to gain a whole lot more in the AL.
Playing in the nuanced NL Central has left Houston competing with five other teams for division titles. For now, the NL Central boasts six teams, more than any other division in baseball. Joining a four-team division makes life a whole lot easier for Jose Altuve and company.
Texas, Oakland and Los Angeles are all playoff contenders this year, and Houston will likely struggle against these division opponents in the immediate future.
But as time passes, the Astros will be thankful for one less team to vie with for postseason berths.
It's no secret that the Astros have struggled at the plate, ranking 28th in total runs scored, 24th in home runs and 26th in team batting average. And while the American League has flaunted a dominant presence on the mound in recent years, there may be a turning of the tide going on in 2012.
The NL's 3.99 combined ERA tops the AL's 4.10 this year. American League teams have averaged fewer quality starts, have allotted a higher opponent batting average and have notched fewer total strikeouts than their National League counterparts.
The AL West, however, has just one, in the upstart Oakland Athletics.
The Designated Hitter
Of course, moving to the American League gives the Houston Astros a designated-hitter spot in their lineup. As the 'Stros continue to stockpile young talent and eventually scour the free-agent market, they'll enjoy greater positional and lineup flexibility.
A DH naturally makes for a better offense, something Houston has been sorely needing the past few years.
A "Reset" Button
Above all, the Astros get a figurative reset button on what's been a woebegone past half decade. Entering the American League with a fresh new roster, motivated new ownership and a new division gives Houston a change of pace and a breather from free-falling through the MLB.
An in-state rivalry with the Rangers turns from a once-a-year clash to a frequent occasion with the Astros in the West.
The Bottom Line
Sure, there are plenty of reasons to sweat a shift to the American League. Houston leaves behind inveterate tradition and historic familiarity in the NL Central.
But for all the trouble it takes to pack the bags, there's plenty waiting for the Astros once they finally arrive.
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