If I had one wish this Christmas season, it would be for all the children in all the world to hold hands and sing, "Joy to the World."
If I had two wishes this Christmas season, it would be for all the children in all the world to hold hands and sing, "Joy to the World," and for $1 million dollars, tax-free, in my bank account.
If I had three wishes this Christmas season, it would for the crap about the kids, $1 million tax-free in my bank account and for the Astros progress this season to mirror what happened with the Pirates starting in 2012.
A quick review: the Pirates used to be really, really, really, REALLY bad. They went from employing a no-doubt Hall of Famer in small-headed Barry Bonds to losing for 20 seasons in the blink of an eye.
Lots of factors lead to that sort of disaster for a franchise. Low revenues led to players leaving town in questionable trades. Bad management led to bad drafting, bad development and a bad team for years and years.
Slowly, though, things clicked in the past five years. The Pirates won 57 games in 2010, but improved by 15 games in 2011, winning 72. Heading into the 2012 season, they signed Clint Barmes from the Astros to play shortstop. At the time, it seemed a bit far-fetched. Why are the Pirates buying this guy that Ed Wade wasn't even sold on? There was a reason they'd lost for two decades, after all.
Yet, the improvements stuck. Guys like Andrew McCutcheon took a step forward. Some of the Pirates' prospect depth started hitting its stride. Some of it failed to pan out (Jose Tabata, in particular), but enough paid off to send the Pirates up a level.
Pittsburgh won 79 games in 2012, falling ever so short of their first .500 season in so, so long. Then, in 2013, the droubht was broken. The Pirates won 93 games and went to the playoffs.
In looking back at the two teams, it's striking how similar the Astros currently are to the Pirates circa the winter of 2011.
Both teams signed shortstops who could struggle for one reason or another. Both teams had pitching staffs no one really counted on. Both teams had prospects signed to long-term deals at a very young age who then struggled in tastes of the majors. Both teams had outfielders who could win an MVP award.
It's not a perfect matchup. Springer has MVP talent and could match McCutcheon in defense and OPS, but will never make enough contact to sustain an MVP campaign. McCutcheon, while similarly aged to Springer right now, also had more MLB time prior to 2012 before breaking out.
But, the concept is the same.
There's been plenty of talk in how the Padres retooled their roster in a six-day stretch. We've written about it and Even Drellich got into the fun. But, the Astros may see themselves more like the Pirates of yesteryear rather than the current Padres.
They probably see themselves in the same part of the win curve that the Pirates were back then. They're on the way up. Things may get messy and 2015 probably ends with the team precariously balanced below .500. But, if we had to bet right now, it doesn't seem like the Astros will be that far away from .500. They'll be closer to it than at any time this decade.
To make the comparison complete, Houston would need to hit on some bargain free agents like Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett.
They also need to be lucky.
Luck didn't play the entire role in Pittsburgh's breakthrough, but it was a key factor. Any time a team jumps from one level of contention to the next, luck is involved. Luck is involved in injuries, in slumps and hot streaks, in managerial decisions working out.
The Pirates managed to limit their bad luck during the last two-year stretch. If the Astros can do the same, maybe we'llb e celebrating an 11-year postseason drought being snapped in 2016.
That seems to be a good thing to wish for this Christmas.