How Bad Can the Astros Be?
Since 1900, only 18 teams have begun the season with at least eight losses. The Astros' ugly start isn't close to a record, of course, thanks to the 1988 Orioles' epic 21-game losing streak to begin that season, but it's certainly not good within any sort of historic context.
The closest modern team to the Orioles' record is the 1997 Cubs, who started their season out 0-14. Of the 18 teams that have started their seasons out with eight losses, five others ended their streaks where the Astros did but only seven teams carried their season-opening losing streak beyond 10 and only five extended beyond that: the 1904 Washington Senators (final streak: 13, but with a tie in their second game), the 1920 Tigers (final streak: 13), the 2002 Tigers (final streak: 11), the '97 Cubs and the '88 Orioles.
The context is interesting, but it's also not something many Astros fans are likely to be concerned with at this point in time. The more immediately relevant question is how teams have fared after their season-opening losing streaks end. The answer is intuitive and it's not pretty.
Of the 18 modern clubs to open up 0-8 or worse, 17 of them have finished with losing records and they've mostly done so by very wide margins. The two losingest clubs in the 162-game era are both on this list; the 1962 Mets went on to lose 120 games and the 2003 Tigers lost 119. They both started 0-9, though, so perhaps Thursday's win shifted the cosmos to save the Astros from an inglorious season.
Even if Houston doesn't go scraping towards the bottom of the barrel with its loss total, a full half of the teams to start 0-8 have ended their seasons with 100 losses. Again, not pretty. Eight-game losing streaks may not be hugely uncommon, but teams that start seasons 0-8 are almost universally bad.
Almost. As I noted above, 17 of 18 teams to start their seasons 0-8 or worse have had losing seasons, so that leaves one exception. The one team to rise above its terrible start to still put together a winning season is actually a past incarnation of the Astros. Their 1983 club lost its first nine games, but then ripped off eight wins in its next 12 and got back to even in game 66, on June 18th. After those Astros won on July 3, they were 39-40 and that was the last day all year they were below .500. They finally finished up 85-77 and in third place in the old National League West, just six games behind the division champion Dodgers.
So can these modern 'Stros match the feat of their tequila sunrise brethren? Those Astros were coming off of a losing season, just like these Astros are. And the return of Lance Berkman will certainly give the Astros some kind of boost. It'll have to be a heck of a boost, though. Through 10 games, including Friday's loss to the Cubs, the Astros had drawn just nine walks and even with their five-run "outburst" on Thursday, they had only scored 21 runs in total. They've dug themselves quite a hole to open the 2010 season, and if history tells us anything, it's that they're going to have a hard time digging out of it.
All streak information via Baseball-Reference's streak analyzer.