Life has not been fun for Houston Astros fans this season. The Astros are a major league worst 29-57 and any hopes of making a playoff appearance were dashed as early as May. Now most fans are simply waiting to see just how many players will be dealt before the July 31 trade deadline.
There are quite a few factors which have contributed to this disastrous first half, but rather than focusing on the past, we might as well look towards to the future because it can't get much worse for the team, can it?
So, here are ten bold predictions, some positive, some negative, some completely insane.
At 29-57, the Astros are on pace to lose well over 100 games. Yet, I don't see them reaching that dubious mark.
In order to so, the Astros will have to go at least 34-42. Not .500 ball, but still far better than how they've fared in the first half.
So, why the optimism? Look at the National League and you'll see how there's exactly one legitimately good team, the Phillies.
Look at the NL Central, and you'll see how it's an absolute crapshoot, with four teams within three games, but none that are seven games above .500. It's not like any of those teams strike fear into anyone. While I don't expect them to sweep any of those team, it wouldn't be crazy to think they could win a few series against those contenders.
The Astros will also be seeing the Chicago Cubs, the other team out of the race, nine times. Those are all winnable games.
The Astros' best chance at putting together a substantial winning streak will occur in August, when they have back-to-back series' against the other terrible teams in the NL: the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
They start on the road against the Dodgers from August 12-14, then come home and host the Cubs from August 15-17.
One would think the travel might hurt them, but the game on the 14th is a 4:05 start time, so the team won't be returning home past midnight.
Probably not that BOLD of a prediction, but it's by no means a certainty that Bourn will maintain his lead in the steals category.
At 35 swipes already, Bourn is on pace for 66. With the Astros still expected to be struggling, letting Bourn try to get into scoring position is a strategy that should continue, especially because he's only been caught four times.
This is also contingent on Bourn not getting traded to an American League team, but I'll touch on that later.
It's pretty scary that a major league team is not projected to have a player hit 20 home runs this season, but such is the case for the Astros.
Hunter Pence is the leader with a massive ten, and unless Carlos Lee decides to channel some of his home run hitting from years past, I don't envision anyone else capable of surpassing 20.
The top prospect in the organization this season, Jordan Lyles, was brought up to the bigs in late May and has had mixed results.
His record is 0-3, but he hasn't been bad. In his seven starts, he's only given up four earned runs or more twice and has had three quality starts.
In his last outing, Lyles allowed just one run on three hits against the Boston Red Sox in five innings.
I expect Lyles to continue to show flashes of the potential that earned him being regarded as the club's top prospect. His K/BB ratio is around 3/1 and his only problem has been giving up the long ball (five in the seven starts). If he's able to cut that number down, then Lyles should be visiting the win column on multiple occasions in the next couple months.
Almost as crazy as no hitter is projected to hit 20 home runs, no relief pitcher is projected to record 15 saves. The clubhouse leader is Mark Melancon, with a whopping six, while also having three blown saves.
I do project the Astros to be better, but I'd be shocked if Melancon is the closer for much longer. He's been nerve-racking at best. This means that some player who has no saves will be given the duty, and I don't envision him amassing 15 saves.
The top option to assume the role is probably Sergio Escalona, or Fernando Rodriguez if he's brought back up from Triple-A.
Currently, All-Star Wandy Rodriguez is the only pitcher with a winning record, at 6-4. Lyles is 0-3, Bud Norris is 4-6, Brett Myers is 3-8, and J.A. Happ is 3-10.
While I do anticipate those four starters to have better second halves, I don't think it will be enough to put them over .500. Norris probably has the best chance of any of them.
As for Rodriguez, he's gotten the best run support from any starter thus far, and it's hard to see it continuing. Rodriguez's name will be in trade talks for the next month and I think that will cause him to be distracted.
Kind of a weird title, right? Despite the 'Stros having a complete deficiency in hitting the ball out of the yard, they're actually leading the league in doubles, with 177.
Four players, Pence, Lee, Bourn, and Brett Wallace, have over 20 two-baggers.
If they're going to improve during the second half like I predict them to, clearly they'll need to continue putting up runs, which means they'll have to keep putting balls into the gaps since they clearly have trouble putting them into the seats.
Minute Maid Park also has some pretty big gaps, particularly in right-center, so playing in that park can only help them.
Continuing with the notion that this team will improve, the pitching staff must get better. This part of the team is the primary reason they're as bad as their record indicates.
They currently rank dead last in ERA (4.65), opponents batting average (.269), and are second to last in WHIP (1.43) and pitches per plate appearance (3.91).
All of these ranks need to change. Not drastically, but they need to get out of the cellar. Move these ranks to 10th in the NL, and I think that will allow this team to get to where I think they can be by the end of the season.
Like most teams already out of the playoffs, Houston is expected to be sellers this month before the trade deadline hits.
However, I don't anticipate anything big-name players (Lee, Pence, Rodriguez, Bourn) to be moved.
With Pence and Bourn, those are probably the two guys that the Astros need to keep and attempt to build around. Both are still in their 20's and are the most talented players on the team.
With Lee, his contract doesn't expire until after next season, so it will be difficult to move his contract now. I fully expect him to be dealt next season, though.
Rodriguez is probably the most likely player to be dealt. He's a quality arm and potential playoff teams are always looking for starting pitching.
I think the problem will be that Houston will be asking for too much in exchange for Rodriguez. I'm not sure there will be a team desperate enough to unload a few quality prospects for a guy who's 32 and has a career record of 68-68.