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2014 season preview: Why the Astros will win

Well, not really. More like "what the Astros have in common with castaways."

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports
SB Nation 2014 MLB Preview

Take your standard castaway, set adrift at sea for weeks at a time. When rescue is on the horizon, that castaway is thrilled. The future glows for said castaway (let's call him Wilson).

But what happens if there's a small hiccup in that rescue. What if the boat steaming to pick him up has its propeller break? What if the crane pulling him up locks up? What if the crew struggles to pull him onboard?

Wilson, our castaway friend, would still be happy, but I suspect another emotion might creep in. I bet a tinge of impatience, if not outright frustration, might leak into his brain. He'd feel ashamed about it, but that doesn't stop him from yelling out, "Just get me on the boat, already!"

Astros fans and Wilson have a lot in common. Instead of a sweeping, impossible ocean, Astros fans have 324 losses over the past three season to drift (or dwell) upon hopelessly. Instead of slowly growing crazy due to a lack of water and possible heat stroke, Astros fans had the Ed Wade Era. Instead of the relenting elements bearing down upon them, Astros fans had Carlos Lee.

Slowly but surely, Jeff Luhnow has brought rescue to Astros fans. That basement-dwelling farm system from a few years ago was ranked No. 1 by some outlets this winter. The system has high end talent like shortstop Carlos Correa, major league-ready talent like George Springer, and lots and lots of depth.

The losses were part of that deal, though. When Luhnow took over, he and new owner Jim Crane tore the organization down so they could build it back correctly. It hasn't been an easy process, but light is rushing up that tunnel. That's why Luhnow and Co. moved to the next phase of their plan, bringing in veterans through trades and free agent signings to bolster a young roster with legitimate major leaguers.

One of the biggest additions may be Dexter Fowler, the talented center fielder picked up from Colorado for outfielder Brandon Barnes and starting pitcher Jordan Lyles. Fowler gets on base at a high rate, has decent power and speed. He could be one of the better leadoff hitters in Houston's past 10 years, despite his projections' low batting average.
Free agency also helped fix Houston's atrocious bullpen.

Last season, Astros relievers as a group posted the worst bullpen WAR in baseball history at -5.4. Their ERA- of 124 was also historically bad. In an effort to fix that, Luhnow signed three veteran relievers and traded for another. Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Anthony Bass may not be huge names, but they should provide reliable innings late in a game for the Astros, while Jesse Crain, if healthy, should be an above-average closer.

Slipping so far down the win curve had consequences, though. A few additions cannot move Houston too far up that curve. Even in the most positive projection systems, Houston only figures to improve to 70 wins in 2014. To have a chance at .500 would take a bigger improvement than either the Miracle Mets or the Radiant Rays (no one calls them that, I know. Seemed like it fit) experienced.

That's why Astros fans could leave this season frustrated. Even if everything breaks right, this team won't have a winning record. A shot at that elusive, tantalizing second wild card berth is improbable, if not impossible.

Improvement on a massive scale still leaves Houston mired in a 90-loss season. That frustration may manifest itself with an urgency to promote young guys. George Springer is already hearing the calls after his near-40/40 season in the high minors last year. Mark Appel, the polished college righty who was picked No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft, could be expected to join the team by mid-season by impatient fans. If that loss total dips to 100 again, Jeff Luhnow may lose his halo.

Fans can be frustrated. But, they should remember this. The talent is coming. Rescue is coming. It may take some time, but the Astros have a bright future in the near future. Maybe that's enough to wait a little bit longer.