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On the Astros: Hot start shouldn't change Astros long-term plans

Good teams know who they are and where they are going, regardless of short-term success.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Winning is a wonderful thing.

It cures a lot of ills. It can erase all the unease and woe from four horrid seasons. It inspires hopes. It engenders change.

Winning brings back fans.

Where teams get in trouble is by trying to double down on that winning. The best teams know who they are and why they're playing well. They don't mortgage the future for the present.

I should say, the best managers of those teams know who they are. Some of us think that Jeff Luhnow and the rest of the Astros front office are good managers, with a chance to be great. But, this year is the first time we've gotten a taste of that competence.

All their planning has culminated in a great, shocking early-season run. They were supposed to be good. They were not supposed to be leading the division yet, with visions of playoffs dancing in their heads.

Yet, as we wake up on Friday morning, the Astros are basically a coin-flip away from the playoffs. They have just under a 50 percent chance of going to the postseasonusing the FanGraphs playoff odds.

That's largely because of their lead in the division. It may sit at 4 1/2 games now, but the Angels have played better and are projected for the same number of wins as Houston now. The Mariners, too, are projected to win 84 games. All three of those teams have about a 30 percent chance of winning the division title. And, though they are 10 games below .500 and looking up at the Rangers in the standings, I wouldn't count out some crazy moves by the Athletics.

That's why people like Ken Rosenthal argue that Houston should bring up their top prospects. Why, oh, why should Carlos Correa toil in Triple-A when the Astros are in a pennant race? Why not win now? Damn the torpedoes of Super 2. Full speed ahead.

Except, we know the Astros front office is smarter than that.

They can see that Houston has a negative run differential this month and has an insane 9-2 record in one-run games. Team typically win about 50 percent of their one-run games every season. Bullpens influence this some, but the range falls right around halfway.

Some teams can outperform that, like the Orioles during their runs to the postseason. Other teams, like the Astros of the past few years, can drastically underperform that mark.

They will not continue to win 80 percent of their one-run games. But, they could win 60 percent the rest of the way. Add that to their play in these first six weeks and Houston has a very real shot to finish above .500. Give them another run in June and, heck, they could win the division.

In order to do that, they could also bolster the roster at the trade deadline. Dumb teams can get fooled by this play and see a window opening.

Smart teams can recognize that one year shouldn't change the long-term vision for a team. Good teams don't trade away pieces for short-term fixes. Don't expect the Astros to get impending free agents at the deadline for quality prospects. That rules out Denard Span or David Price, even if they were available.

Instead, those good teams pick up assets that are worth the price. Did it seem that the Cards were making a short-term buy on Matt Holliday when they picked him up for Brett Wallace and more? He's only stuck around for seven years and counting in St. Louis.

Chances are, Houston won't rush Correa and they won't make a panic trade when the team's performance dips in July. They may add a guy like Scott Kazmir, who's either on the market or off it, depending on who you ask. They like Kazmir and tried to sign him before. He's also under contract for another season, so he's not a temporary fix.

The Astros don't seem to be about temporary fixes. They're building something to last.

We don't know if Houston is a good team or a dumb one. We suspect it's the former, but it could be the latter. They've certainly let talent get away. Just look at Delino DeShields or Justin Maxwell this year (though some flukes do crash back down to earth).

They've also made some incredibly astute moves. Colby Rasmus is working out splendidly, as are WIll Harris and even Roberto Hernandez. The draft has looked impactful in all three years, no matter how you view Mark Appel.

We won't know how good this team can be until it starts winning and winning big. The Astros could win this year, but it still feels early. Let's hope the front office recognizes that and plans accordingly for the present and the future.