Wednesday afternoon, the Houston Astros played a matinee against the Milwaukee Brewers. Check out the Yahoo! box score and look immediately to the right. The Astros' top batter: Brett Wallace, who finished 3-for-4 with two dingers and three RBI. The Brewers' top batter: Cesar Izturis, who finished 3-for-4 with one dinger and two RBI. Okay, way to go, Astros! If you just looked at that and managed to not see the final score at the top of the page, you might think the Astros did all right.
Look over at the final score. Or, for the grisly details, scroll all the way down. Here's what you'll find:
Brett Wallace was very good! Many of the rest of the Astros were not. Brett Wallace slugged two home runs and the Astros lost to the Brewers 13-4. The Brewers completed a three-game sweep in which each of the last two games were decided by nine runs.
I'm not here to point and laugh at the Astros for having baseball's worst record. (The Astros have baseball's worst record, by a lot.) Remember that, before the season, the Astros were one of the worst baseball teams ever projected. And that was before they traded Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Johnson and Carlos Lee and J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers. We all figured the 2012 Houston Astros were going to be a bad baseball team. When the Astros were 32-43 on June 27, they made for a pleasant surprise.
But that's kind of the thing. At one point, the Astros were 32-43. After losing to the Brewers on Wednesday, the Astros are 35-71. Allow that to sink in. Pour it into the tub and bathe in it. Open your mouth and swallow it. Fill a syringe and inject it directly into your bloodstream.
The Astros were bad and a pleasant surprise, and since then they've lost 28 of 31 games. Over a full season, that would be just about a 16-win pace. Of course no one could sustain a 16-win pace over a full season, but the Astros have done it over more than a month. I didn't want to write about how bad the Astros have been lately, but the Astros have left me little choice.
I don't want to get too detailed. Instead, I'm going to use numbers and player comparisons to try to allow the magnitude of the Astros' dreadful slump to sink in, like it ought to. Maybe "3-28" doesn't do enough. Maybe what follows will.
Over the slump, the Astros have amassed 1,149 plate appearances. They've rapped out 231 hits. That's not very good, and in fact the Astros' team batting line over the 31 games has been .227/.297/.345. That goes with a .277 batting average on balls in play, which is low but not that low. The Astros have posted a .642 team OPS. For his career, Andy LaRoche has batted .226/.305/.337, with a .642 OPS. During this slump, the Astros have hit just about exactly like a whole team of Andy LaRoche.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, so to speak, Astros opponents have batted 1,210 times. They've posted a batting line of .295/.366/.485, good for an .850 combined OPS. For his career, Andre Ethier has batted .291/.364/.479, with an .842 OPS. During this slump, Astros opponents have hit just about exactly like whole teams of Andre Ethier.
But, okay, we all know that run prevention is about both pitching and defense. During the slump, Astros pitchers have posted a 5.89 ERA and a 6.40 general RA. Wait, no, that's still pitching and defense put together. During the slump, Astros pitchers have posted a 4.87 FIP, and the defense has allowed a .333 batting average on balls in play. Without breaking it down to starters and relievers, because that would be too complicated, the 2012 Astros have posted the same FIP during the slump as 2012 Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has not had a good season overall, if your mind is playing tricks on you. Meanwhile, there have been just two team BABIPs allowed of at least .330 since the turn of the millennium: .330 by the 2012 Colorado Rockies, and .331 by the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Some of the Astros' slump BABIP might be pitching and some might be luck, but suffice to say the team defense has been poor.
Everything's been poor. Every damn thing. Probably; I haven't checked the baserunning, and I'm not about to. I guess Jose Altuve's been okay, and Lucas Harrell has been good, but forget individuals. The Astros have gone 3-28. You don't lose 28 of 31 games when you have a team strength. The hitting's been LaRocheian -- the bad kind -- the pitching's been Buchholzian -- the bad kind -- and the defense has been Devil Raysian. The Astros have been a catastrophe. Since the start of the slump, the average score of an Astros game has been 6.1 to 3.0, not-Astros.
As a silver lining for the Astros and their fans, this doesn't really matter, kind of. Everybody knew that the Astros would be bad and Jeff Luhnow is starting the organization completely over, practically from scratch. The Astros' current on-field product is as low a priority as any on-field product I can remember. They're building to the future while shielding their eyes from the present. But one of the goals of this season was to identify possible long-term pieces, and there aren't many of them. Young Astros players are contributing to this miserable performance. It would be nice if young Astros were playing better. But I guess it was never about 2012. And how.
Can the 2012 Astros catch the 2003 Tigers? It's not likely, because of all those wins the Astros piled up in May, but it's more likely than it was before this slump got started. To equal the Tigers' record, the Astros would have to lose 48 of their remaining 56 games. That would be insane. Almost impossible. Maybe actually impossible. But then the Astros have already lost 28 of their last 31 games. They've come through with proof of concept. Now it's about execution. The Astros almost certainly aren't going to finish with as lousy a record as the 2003 Tigers, but thanks to some legendary awfulness, they still have an outside shot.