Houston Astros: Three Things to Watch in the Second Half of the Season

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The Astros return to action out of the All Star break tonight, journeying to Chicago to take on the Chicago White Sox. The Astros' record has improved from last year, and the team has not been as bad as it has been in years past. Though the team's been so damn bad in years past that just about anything is an improvement. So with the Astros returning to play, what should the fans watch for the remainder of the season?

1.The Worst Team In Baseball Race

The Astros are better this year than last. And with a record of 40-56, they are actually on a pace not to lose 100-plus games for the fourth season in a row. But it needs to be noted that the Astros, are, again, in competition for the worst record in baseball. The only team with a worse record, at the moment, is the Texas Rangers, a team in free fall that seems to have given up on the season. If the Astros lose out for the worst record, then the team will lose out on the first pick of the amateur draft. This would be a good thing as no team wants to continuously lose and lose games and earn the number one pick in the MLB amateur draft, even a team that's willing to experiment with new ideas as much as the Astros.

So if you're really desperate for a reason to watch, watching to see if the Astros lose 100-plus games, earn the worst record in MLB once again and get the first pick in the draft may be about the best reason there is because the team is sure as hell not going to compete for anything else.

2. The Best Teams In Baseball

There's still the chance to see some good baseball -- that is, if you don't mind watching the Astros lose. Of the team's 66 remaining games, 23 are against division rivals Oakland (12 games, six at home), Los Angeles (five games, two at home) and Seattle (six games, three at home). All three would make the playoffs if the postseason started today, and Oakland currently has the best record in baseball.

True, it might be depressing watching the team gets its ass handed to it each night. But it can't be any worse than watching the Boston Red Sox, one of MLB's bad teams this year, trounce the Astros at Minute Maid Park while fans cheer down on the Red Sox. And with these teams battling for playoff positioning, it'll be a good chance to see how the kids stack up against the best.

3. Strikeouts, Strikeouts and More Strikeouts

George Springer is fun to watch -- he made this catch against the Rangers last week that was a thing of majesty. But man, does he strike out, to the tune of 112 Ks in 337 plate appearances. Yes, he has 19 homers and 50 RBI and there have been stretches where he's appeared to put the team on his back and carry his teammates to victory. But as M.K Bower noted yesterday, on his current pace, Zips projects that Springer's age-24 rookie season slash line and accompanying stats will be worse than Hunter Pence's age-24 rookie season numbers. As much fun as Pence is to watch, is there anybody who really thinks he's the most important player on any team?

If it's any comfort, Springer has started his career on a far worse team than Pence did and with far less lineup protection. Pence also had a really slow start and his numbers have improved as he's become more comfortable. And Springer is also a plus defender, which is something that can't be said for teammate Chris Carter, who has stuck out 99 times in 303 plate appearances. There appear to be only two outcomes to a Carter at bat: He hits a homer or strikes out, with not much in between. And Springer's fellow rookie, Jon Singleton, has an average hovering around the Mendoza line and has struck out an incredible 57 times in just 155 plate appearances.

The Astros as a team have struggled with strikeouts the past several seasons. Maybe there's a club philosophy stressing that players be aggressive while at the plate -- though that philosophy obviously didn't apply to J.D. Martinez -- but one hopes that, at some point, the team realizes that it's hard to consistently score runs when the batters are constantly striking out.

So were you looking for some reasons to keep watching the Astros this season? Well, there's a few suggested reasons for you. And who knows, if you're lucky, maybe you'll see some decent baseball, though it's probably best not to count on it.

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