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The Houston Astros ended the 2012 season with even more losses than the previous one, which set a franchise record. As a back-to-back 100-loss team, the Astros leave the National League behind and face a tough road ahead in the American League.
Obviously no one wants to be associated with back-to-back 100-loss seasons, when the second was worse than the first one and losing became a regular and expected thing. No one wants to be a part of a mediocre professional sports team, much less a terrible one. So it would make sense if the Houston Astros hung their heads after being handed a franchise record 107th loss Wednesday to the Chicago Cubs.
But that's not at all what they did, and with good reason. This team isn't going to be remembered for its quality of baseball players, but at the tail end when there was nothing left to play for but pride, just to avoid the twisting of the knife so many teams had stabbed them with, the Astros had some fight in them.
Houston won five of its last seven games with four of those coming on shutouts, and three of them in a row. We're talking about a team headed to the American League, with a pitching staff giving its best effort after a regrettable season.
"Just the way we finished, we knocked the Brewers out of playoff contention and really played well this last few weeks," outfielder Justin Maxwell said. "If we, individually, work on the things we know we have to get better at, we're going to better as a team."
The Astros are definitely going to get better as a team. That's mainly because it's too hard for them to be worse. It can only go up from here. That was the point of unloading players who mattered like Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and yes, even Carlos Lee (seem to have traded for the third baseman of the future in Matt Dominguez).
What worked for the Astros at the end of the season was having already accepted the season for what it was and shifting the focus to getting better every day. Perhaps there was a change when Brad Mills was let go, and positive, energetic Tony DeFrancesco took over. The Astros weren't a better team with a single personnel change, but it ended a three-year era of a time when nothing more than mediocrity was expected and futility had become custom.
The 100-loss-bound Astros didn't have to play it like that. They dropped 10 of their first 11 games under Tony D., but went 15-14 from there.
Bo Porter will take over for the 2013 season and let's just acknowledge that this guy, while young and unknown to many, is for real.
The Astros and Washington Nationals tied for 14th most stolen bases this season. It will be interesting to see how much the 'stros pay attention to detail with Porter running the show.
There's still a lot to figure out, like the player evaluations that determine who fits in the future plans and who doesn't, who the pitching coach is going to be and a myriad of other decisions to be made. The changes so far are well-documented.
We're looking at a whole new team come April 2013. Will it be the same 'ol losing results, playing in a division with the likes of the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels? Almost certainly in 2013. Maybe even 2014.
What's compelling is that whenever the Astros do get better, and again, they have to, it's going to be worth it all. That's not to overstate how good the 'stros can be. But a hypothetical of Houston involved in a late-season race for the AL West with the Rangers or A's is worth rooting for.
And no matter the league, division or opponent, the 713/281/832 area code is still rooting for the home team.