As our good and talented editor here at SBN Houston has pointed out recently, the Astros sweeps of the Phillies and Cardinals don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. After all, there is no tangible difference to the season if they finish with 75 wins or 65. Except for some key reasons, which I will try to argue:
1) Baseball as a business - The first way to look at it is this way. The bottom line is cold, hard cash. If the Astros are not playing well, they're not bringing in money. Fans aren't buying tickets and have nothing to get excited about in 2011. Winning games cures this. Winning games gets companies to reinvest in expensive luxury boxes. Winning games now might not sell playoff tickets, but it sure does look good on the marketing campaigns to trumpet guys like Chris Johnson. So, wins this time of year do mean something.
2) Baseball as entertainment - Forget about the money, what about the fans? You watch the Astros. You root for them day in and day out. Why on earth would you want to watch them lose over and over again in the name of a draft pick? The four months of baseball starting last August and continuing through this past May were four of the worst months of baseball I've ever seen. The Astros were a lethargic team going nowhere. Lately? There have been things to get excited about. When people remember the 2010 season, they'll think of the Oswalt and Berkman trades first, but they might just remember that four-game sweep in Philly next. The Astros have been a decent team for about three months now. They just haven't been good enough to shake off that putrid start.
3) Baseball as a complex, multi-year development plan - Okay, so you don't but the money gambit and you don't want to focus on short-term wins. If Moneyball taught us nothing, it was to think big or go home. The draft matters. For the Astros, it does and it doesn't. In each of the past three drafts, scouting director Bobby Heck has taken guys in the first round that no one expected to go there. From Jason Castro to Delino DeShields and Mike Foltynewicz, Heck takes players he likes, consensus be damned. So far, it's worked out. Unless the Astros got a top 2 pick, I'm okay with Bobby getting the guy he wants at No. 11, because it's probably the same guy he would have gotten at No. 9.
4) Karma - Remember the Florida Marlins? They gutted their team after the 1997 World Series title and again after the 2003 title. They were truly awful for years after each time and have now just gotten back to decent. The players they developed and drafted in that time? Gone, traded away or left via free agency for more money. Their rebuilding effort is constant, though their new ballpark will supposedly help with that. One or two years of brilliance does not make up for the decade of misery for fans. That's a bit like karmic retribution. If you gut the team after a title, expect some psychic payback. Thus, it's nice to see the Astros winning games because they traded for players who were close to or had already arrived in the majors. Thus, they didn't suffer too much of a talent dropoff on the big league team. Oh, and they didn't trade away ALL their players, just the old ones. So, no karmic retribution necessary.
I've watched too many losses this season to look a gift win in the mouth. If the Astros want to go back to beating up on the Cardinals and Cubs, they can be my guest. These past few months have been the best part of the season and I wouldn't trade it for a couple spots in the draft for anything.