The 2014 season is coming to an end, and it's been another losing season in the standings for the Astros. Compared to the last couple of seasons though? It's actually been a pretty good year relatively. The Astros won't lose another 100 games unlike the previous 3 years, and they won't finish in last place. Let me repeat that. THE ASTROS WILL NOT FINISH IN LAST PLACE!!!!
Small potatoes I know, but for a fan base that's seen the worst of what baseball can offer it's actually something to find solace in. In fact, let's take comfort in the fact that there are many teams that the Astros are now better than. Call it looking at the glass half full, the #process, progress, or just schadenfreude now that someone is worse than the Astros, but let's take a look at the bottom half of the standings and see how many teams the Astros will finish ahead of.
Overall standings as of 9/16/14, and games back from Atlanta
Miami: 73-76, 1.5 GB
Tampa Bay: 73-78, 2.5 GB
NY Mets: 72-79, 3.5 GB
Cincinnati: 71-80, 4.5 GB
San Diego: 69-80, 5.5 GB
Philadelphia: 69-81, 6 GB
Chicago White Sox: 68-82, 7 GB
Houston: 67-83, 8 GB
Chicago Cubs: 66-84, 9 GB
Boston: 66-84, 9 GB
Minnesota: 63-87, 12 GB
Arizona: 62-88, 13 GB
Colorado: 59-91, 16 GB
Texas: 57-92, 17.5 GB
So that makes six teams that the Astros have passed in the standings so far, two of which were supposed to compete for division championships, and they're within striking distance of 3 more. With good play the rest of the way, the Astros will likely come very close to escaping the bottom the third of the standings, which considering where they were at the same point last year, is solid progress.
Of course standings can only tell us so much about how good a team really is. Run differential usually gives us a better picture of the true level a team is playing at. At -88 runs the Astros still have a lot of work to do. If we sorted standings by run differential it makes them look a little worse, with only four other teams (the White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Rangers) having a worse differential.
Those 88 runs don't really tell the whole story though. The Astros have been playing pretty well recently, and honestly they don't really look like one of the four worst teams and baseball at the moment. Is there something else to the story here? Well, they're playing a lot better in the 2nd half then the first obviously, but also playing in the same division and playing more games against two of the best teams in baseball, the Angels and the A's (and THE best offensive team period in the Angels), can skew your run differential a little bit.
The Astros were scorched by the A's and the Angels in the first half. In terms of pure runs scored and allowed, the Astros lost to these two teams by a combined 130-73, good for a -57 run deficit over 21 games. Yikes.
The 2nd half numbers against these two same teams tells the story of the Astros season. Over 17 games in the 2nd half the Astros have scored 68 runs to their 71, good for only a -3 run deficit, which means they basically competed evenly against two of the best teams in the league. It's a small sample for sure, but the discrepancy between the two halves show us how much the team has improved.
In fact, if we subtract the runs allowed and runs scored from the 1st half games played against the Athletics and Angels, the Astros' run differential would be 518 runs scored against 549 runs allowed, good for a -31 run differential. That basically makes them the New York Yankees with a savings of $159 million dollars in payroll.
The Yankees have ridden some luck to a record of a few games above .500, and came fairly close to a wild card spot. If you told me a month ago that the Astros would finish above .500 next year, I would have told you that you to take off the rose-tinted glasses you're wearing. Now? If the Astros can improve their bullpen, stay healthy, and get a full year from George Springer.....It really doesn't seem out of the question does it? The Astros aren't quite a good team yet, but they're making great strides. If you're bullish on the Astros finishing above .500 next year, then you might not be so crazy after all.