On July 1st the Astros were 29-54 and dead last in the Majors. Surprisingly this is only the third time the Astros have been dead last in the league at about the mid way mark. Even better they've never managed to finish dead last in the Major Leagues in since their inception into the league..
With all the talk about the Astros shooting for a 100+ loss season and the number one pick in next years draft, I decided to go back and take a look at the history of losers at around the midway point and how often they've managed to finish dead last in the league. I used July 1st partly because it was around this time that the talk for the number one pick heated up it's also typically the beginning of the fourth month for the Major League baseball season.
I decided to go all the way back to 1962 the first year of the Astros existence and as mentioned above the Astros have been dead last in the league, on July 1st, only two other times in 1975 and 2000. In 1975 the Astros would finish 64-97 seven games better than the Detroit Tigers who finished 57-102. In 2000 they managed to finish 72-90 after being 27-53 on July 1st. They finished seven games better than both the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs who tied for the worst record in the league at the end of the season.
So the Astros obviously have to not only play bad ball, but also play it worse than several other teams.
Since 1962 there been 22 teams who have finished last in the league after being after also being last in the league on July 1st. In case you don't have a calculator handy that's a 45% success rate. To me that's a bit surprising but really it shouldn't a bad team is a bad team. That means, if history tells us anything, there's a 55% chance another team swipes the number one spot from the Astros.
Lets meet the competition.
The Orioles biggest problem like the Astros has been the pitching and defense. They're slightly better than the Astros offensively with the possibility of actually getting a little better due to their batting average on balls in play (BABiP). Their pitching is around where it should be and the defense has actually been worse than the Astros. I don't think you can count out any team that plays in the AL East snatching the number one pick from the Astros.
I thought this team got off to a good start. Well they're in the basement again and like the Orioles and Astros it's because of pitching. That's really the only negative to this team because their offense is average and they're defense has been average to above average. Throw in that they're finally starting to dip into their loaded farm system and you gotta believe the Royals will be a weak competitor for the number one pick.
This could be one of the better contenders. Their offense has been average but could be below average when it's all said and done. The pitching may improve a little bit but the defense is still bad. Overall the Cubs appear to be slightly better than the Astros across the board, but they are the Cubs so you never know.
Probably the biggest thing working against the Dodgers is their ownership issue. It appears Frank McCourt will be fighting tooth and nail to hang onto the franchise. Filing for bankruptcy means they could sell some pieces before the deadline, however if MLB manages to take over before the deadline you can be certain that the Dodgers will not be making many moves. As is the Dodgers appear to be a below average team offensively, above average pitching and average defensively. The ownership issue though makes this team a wildcard for the top pick.
The offense has under achieved, the pitching has over achieved and their defense has been below average. The manager got tired of this team and walked which led to the re-emergence of Jack McKeon who one time before took over mid-season and lead his team to the World Series. Somehow I don't think that happens this time and in fact I wouldn't be surprised if this team is in the thick of it come September.
Both the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics have been bad in the first half. The Twins have had issues with the pitching staff, and staying healthy. The A's on the other hand have one of the worst offenses in the league and they're always a threat to trade away their talent. The Twins though are getting healthy and the A's have one of the better pitching staffs in the league so they'll both most likely have enough to avoid being the worst team in the league.
There are several other candidates, but they've had pretty good first half's so it would require a pretty bad collapse to get in on the competition.
The Astros could go on one of their typical second half runs, eliminating themselves from the first pick entirely. Of course they have yet to show any signs of life and could further their cause by trading away some of the names being bandied about in the trade talk.
One remaining variable is the transfer of ownership to Jim Crane. With the Dodgers mess it may be after the non-waiver trade deadline before he is finally approved which causes issues in the decision making process for the trade deadline. Sure he's being kept in the loop and has some say but how much weight it has on the decision making process is anyone's guess. I for one think the Astros stand pat and trade some of the older pieces like Jeff Keppinger. Is trading Keppinger enough to plumet the Astros further into oblivion?