Houston Astros Only 1.5 Games Back in the National League Central!

If you were to tell Houston Astros fans prior to the 2012 season that the team would sport a 3-2 record five games in and already worn the Colt .45′s uniforms, you’d depressingly find many who wondered whether the season’s optimism was nearly done.

That’s the truth though for a club that’s still destined to flirt with one hundred losses.

Instead of cratering early, at least the Astros made it a bit intriguing for a dwindling fan base. They currently sit 1.5 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central, a number that figures to steadily rise throughout the summer.

But thus far, the small-sample sizes can be spun into yarns of immense trade value and overdue prospects fulfilling their promise.

Or they just mean guys came out of Spring Training hot before cooling off and settling in for a summer of 10-2 ball games.

Carlos Lee, playing first base exclusively and in a contract year, posted a .389 average, 1.087 OPS and 6 RBI in his first week. He seems engaged and with El Caballo, that’s not always a given unless you’re talking about his ranch. Whether the 36 year-old is hoping for one last deal or one more shot at October baseball, his numbers allow him a chance at both. 14 teams are on Lee’s no-trade list but should his bat stay hot through July, a team in the race looking for pop might be willing to part with a prospect or two.

Jose Altuve, Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Johnson, J.D. Martinez and Jordan Schafer are all producing quality at-bats early in April. Schafer and Altuve specifically have done well getting on base while Martinez and Johnson’s numbers represent a feast or famine approach. I’m less worried about Martinez as I see him hitting in the early to middle part of the order for years but Johnson isn’t young anymore. If the Astros had literally anyone else in the pipeline at third base (they moved light-hitting, large posterior Brett Wallace there to give him some competition), Johnson probably doesn’t earn multiple starts.

Brian Bogusevic didn’t work out as a pitcher and his numbers (.118, .505 OPS) suggest he better figure it out quickly as a hitter or the waiver wire beckons.

Perhaps most shocking was that Kyle Weiland‘s turn in the rotation last night against Atlanta offered the first sub-par appearance for an Astros’ starter. Weiland gave up four earned runs in the loss while two of his comrades (Lucas Harrell and Wandy Rodriguez) have yet to surrender any. Weiland was also the first to pitch less than six innings, a stat that’s helped a leaky bullpen thus far as well. Fernando Abad, after a bad outing over the weekend was sent to Triple-A to make room for the recently signed Jason Maxwell. Wesley Wright is still having trouble getting guys out but for the most part, that’s the extent of the damage.

No one, nationally or sitting in Minute Maid, expects this team to approach seventy wins. There are too many holes, too many players that would still be in Triple-A on opposing clubs and not enough talent behind them to provoke early call-ups.

But the product a week in has been watchable and when the franchise is having difficulty drawing 20,000 in attendance, that means something. It’s a long way from the days of September runs to the wild card but that’s why no club likes rebuilding.

The Astros just happen to need a little more brick and mortar than everyone else.

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