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The panic button doesn’t exist in April

Being handily defeated by mediocre teams early on is unsettling, but so what.

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Astros have lost four in a row and are in a clear slump. It’s not yet a particularly lengthy one, but the team has lost consecutive games in decisive fashion. They’ve been outscored in their four recent contests by a 27 to 9 margin. What could elicit concern is which teams the Astros have been soundly beaten by — the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers, two teams with meager playoff aspirations. Moreover, it all happened at Minute Maid Park.

In spite of these discouraging performances, it’s important to remember how inconsequential a few games are in a full schedule that consists of 162. And that remembrance is noteworthy because of what transpired in everyone’s favorite year, 2020.

In 2020, every result mattered. It was a 60-game sprint to the finish line. Patience wasn’t a luxury for any team.

The Astros are 6-5 so far in 2021, and while it’s not as shiny a record as 6-1 was a week ago, the peaks and valleys of a season will not be so significant this year. Losing four straight isn’t as impactful.

The marathon that is a normal MLB season is back, and with it comes a reality check: The Astros are a highly talented team and are expected to win their division, regardless of how outmatched they appeared to be over the course of a single week in April.

Yordan Álvarez has 1 walk through 49 plate appearances, Yuli Gurriel has 9 through 48. Kyle Tucker’s batting average is .227 and his Expected Batting Average (xBA) is .309. Up is down right now. That’s simply the nature of April baseball. Its enticing data isn’t always easy to view through a rational, contextual lens. Just look at what I wrote about Zack Greinke’s slider 11 days ago — hyping it up only for him to say after his start on Sunday, “I don’t want to ever throw it again after today.”

As tempting as it might be to give the panic button a glance, it would be foolish. Things aren’t likely to look the same in a few months’ time. For one, Jake Odorizzi’s velocity probably won’t be a tick below last year’s average as it was last night. He is still building up after a delayed start to his spring training.

This is known, but its reiteration isn’t totally needless. The abnormality of 2020 made inane overreactions obsolete, because they weren’t inane. The results of one week were incredibly meaningful in the grand scheme of that ridiculous 60-game campaign.

Maintaining perspective on what’s substantial and what’s not is again a key item. It’s not to say that was terribly less important in 2020, but if the experience of that year did one thing subtly, it was the rewiring of baseball fans’ psyches. Not every game matters anymore. Not every performance is of tangible consequence. While society isn’t completely back to normal yet, the long, familiar grind of a full baseball season has returned. Let’s not overlook that.