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On the Astros: How bad is Houston at this exact moment?

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I'm not piling on here, nor asking for snide remarks. Just trying to figure out if Wednesday's Astros are any better than July's team.

Quantify bad for me. Tell me how bad is bad. Not bad, bad Leroy Brown, either. I mean Astros-bad.

How bad is this team? We know how many losses they have. We know how bad the bullpen is. But, aren't there gradations of suckitude? I mean, this Astros team isn't historically bad, right? It's not '62 Mets bad. At least, we think it's not.

But, thinking about this Astros team in terms of the '62 Mets or any other historically bad team doesn't quite hit the mark, does it? These Astros aren't the same Astros who started the year in those navy and orange uniforms. This team, right now, is a different animal. Is it playing any different? Is there hope that they might not be as bad as we've seen for the past five months?

Yes and no. The picture is muddled, just like this entire season has been muddled.

If we go just by run differential, this month has been no different than June, though Houston's record doesn't speak to that. In the second half, Houston has shown some improvement in its run differential, at minus-33 as opposed to minus-143 in the first half. But, that hasn't shown up in the winning percentage, as Houston has gone 11-25 in the second half.

That record would be improved some due to expected wins, as Houston should be 14-21 over that stretch. That's a winning percentage just north of .400, which would put Houston on pace for 66 wins. Right now, they're on pace for 56 wins.

Which means that since the second half began, Houston has been playing like a team about 10 games better than the one which limped into this position. Not much solace, is it? 66 wins is still a lot of losses and would be one of the worst seasons in franchise history It'd be a dramatic improvement on the past couple of years, but still pretty bad.

Still, that doesn't do this team justice. We can say how good they should be or how well they've played on the periphery, but it doesn't get at the fundamental problem. Though they've scored and prevented runs like a .400 team, they've won games like a .300 team. Why is that?

A big reason is that terrible, awful, no-good, very-bad bullpen. This season as a whole, Houston has gone 16-27 in one-run games. Typically, teams have wild swings in this category, as those are largely determined by the luck dragons (hey, Baltimore! Howya doin?). For Houston to be 11 games under .500 in one-run games speaks to how bad that bullpen has been, but also to how much of an improvement Houston could make next season just with a little lucky bounces.

As recently as 2010, Houston was 21-18 in one-run games. They've been significantly under .500 in one-run games since that point, which is sort of remarkable, but probably also says something about the bullpens in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Still, add in those five wins to Houston's record this year, and they've won 49 games, putting them neck-and-neck with the Marlins for that first pick. Heck, a winning streak or two in September might have even helped the Astros avoid another 100 loss season.

That's not happening, though, because the Astros have played like a wretched team for most of this season, regardless of how the deck chair were arranged.

So, how bad are the Astros at this exact moment? About as bad as you'd expect. They're a .300 team who could play better if the bullpen ever solidifies. But, as Tuesday night taught us again, that may not happen before October ends this dreadful season once and for all.

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