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On the Astros: Early-season success vital for Houston to avoid confirming worst fears

If you didn't like the Astros chances before the season, Houston's offensive struggles against Cleveland just confirmed that.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Can you really blame the fans who booed Evan Gattis on Thursday?

They just sat through four seasons of 416 losses in which the Astros won 35 percent of their total games.

They saw an inept offense for much of that time, featuring strikeout after strikeout after strikeout. They saw pitchers flirt with no-hitters and perfect games on a monthly basis. Some of them completed them, like Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13, 2012. Others were broken up, like Yu Darvish's in the second game of the 2013 season.

That collective ennui infected fans more deeply than one 70-win season can cure. It left most jaded to anything other than wins and positive outcomes.

When the Astros opened by scoring three runs in three games against the Indians, striking out early and often against a trio of Indian fireballers, it simply confirmed what most people already think.

The Astros plan is broken. Houston is too smart for its own good.

Take the Evan Gattis trade. On the surface, it was a good move. The Astros added one of the best power hitters on the market for a prospect who's "blocked" by a more advanced guy and for a Top 100 pitcher who's probably going to be a reliever long-term.

Yet, El Oso Blanco's pathetic showing in these games left no one feeling good about that trade. It's a long season. Gattis will hit eventually once the Astros face worse pitchers than Cleveland threw. For instance, this weekend against the Rangers, Gattis could go crazy.

Until Astros fans see him in action, Gattis is no better than 2014 first-half Chris Carter or Matt Dominguez or Brett Wallace.

Consider, too, the Hank Conger trade. To some, Houston gave up a legitimate starting pitcher who is big-league ready for a no-hit catcher who doesn't play defense very well. Sure, he has an elite skill at framing pitches, but it's hard to "see" that at a macro level on a game-to-game basis.

You know what you can see? Two glaring defensive mishaps in Conger's first start of the season. He airmailed a throw into center field on a steal attempt and then couldn't put a tag on Yan Gomes after George Springer's laser of a throw from right.

Are we really supposed to buy that Conger has hidden skills that make up for these huge deficits?

Public perception is everything. Talk radio has already turned against the Astros, simply because only the hardcore few pay attention to the Astros on more than a surface level. To most, the first three games confirm their worst thoughts about the Astros. There hasn't been a turnaround. The front office is a bunch of frauds. This is the same bad team that's been here for the past four years.

That's why it's so important for the Astros to get out to a fast start this season. These first two months are critical to turning public opinion.

Over the course of a season, these games mean no more than those in August. But, for a team struggling to throw off the shackles of all those losses, these games can't have more import.

If the Astros can play above .500 ball for two months, but then slip under that mark by the end of September, maybe people will see the team as really being improved. By the time the public's attention turns to the Texans, they'll have an impression of the Astros as competent again.

Maybe Evan Gattis won't get booed by his own fans.

Of course, it may not matter when Houston plays better. Fans could be so jaded by those 400 losses that only a playoff race will wake them up. If so, it may take until 2016 or 2017 before the Astros are viewed favorably again.