If you've been blaming Carlos Gomez or Ken Giles for the Astros' gaudy start, you've got the wrong man. I'm your scapegoat. I caused it. I wrote a fanpost just days before the season started explaining how important it is for teams to get off to a hot start. In the most superstitious sport of them all, I jinxed my favorite team. Mea culpa.
Now that the damage is done and the Astros have played over 30 games (one of the benchmarks in my fanpost), it seems an appropriate time to take a closer look at how teams with similar starts have fared over the remainder of the season. Just how damming is this terrible start that I have caused?
Historical Teams with Similar Starts
The Astros played their 30th game of the season on Friday night against the Mariners and won 6-3 for win #11. I pulled the final win totals for all teams that had 10 to 12 wins through their first 30 games since the 2000 season.
As expected, most teams that start the season poorly end the season poorly. There are 81 teams represented on the chart (a bigger dot means multiple teams at that location). Of those 81 teams, only 12 (or 15%) had a winning record at the end of the season.
The orange line on the chart marks 86 wins, the number the Astros needed last year to claim the 2nd AL Wild Card spot. Only 10 teams (or 12%) have finished the season with 86 or more wins after winning 10-12 of their first 30 games since 2000.
If you're really an optimist, you can see that 5 of these teams actually won more than 90 games by the end of the season. The most dramatic improvement belongs to the 2001 Oakland Athletics, who started the season 11-19 before going on a 91-41 tear to end the season with 102 wins.
Most Recent Success Stories
One team in each of the past two seasons won only 10-12 of their first 30 games before eventually winning 88 and making the playoffs. We know all too well which team did this in 2015.
The Texas Rangers struggled out of the gate last year to a 12-18 record before going on a 7-game winning streak near the end of May to get back to .500 at 23-23. They had an up-and-down summer though, and were back at 5 games under .500 (47-52) after a loss to the Yankees on July 28th. The acquisition of Cole Hamels and some bullpen arms at the trade deadline helped propel them in August and September (ok, enough bad memories).
The Pittsburgh Pirates also began the season 12-18 and ended with 88 wins, doing so in 2014, but they took a more gradual climb than the Rangers did. After 60 games, the Pirates were only 2 games under .500 at 29-31. They were 47-43 after 90 games, 64-56 after 120 games, and 80-70 after 150 games.
The Road Ahead
So where do the Astros go from here? Do they slowly but surely keep improving that record like the Pirates did in 2014, or do they tread water until the trade deadline when they get a shot in the arm from some big name acquisition who helps propel them to a scorching August and September? Or neither?
May has been an encouraging month. The Astros still have a long way to go before they are out of the hole they've dug, but at least it seems like they've stopped digging. They've stopped getting picked off and caught in between bases for the most part, and the starting pitching has been tremendously better than it was in April.
The games they win aren't really close, and the games they lose are very close. In their last 4 wins, the Astros have led by 4 runs or more at some point during each game and their lead never shrank to less than 2 runs. On the flip side, 3 of their last 5 losses were tie games in the 9th, and one of the other losses was 2-0 where the Astros loaded the bases in the 9th.
The Astros have started winning more than losing, but they've also been playing their opponents well. If they continue to play smart baseball, I think their record will continue to slowly improve. If Lance McCullers joins the team soon and is as dominant as he was last year (or better), the Astros could get back to a winning record much sooner. Slow and steady wins the race, but 10-game winning streaks are more fun!