Houston has baseball's lowest payroll and is coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons. Things won't get any easier in the powerful AL West, though.
The Astros are optimistic they'll be much better than they were last season. Most everyone else figures it will be difficult for this team to avoid becoming the first team to lose at least 106 games in three straight seasons since the expansion Mets did it from 1962-65.
On Sunday night 28-year-old Bud Norris , Houston's highest-paid player with a $3 million salary, will become the team's fourth opening day starter in four years. He's looking to bounce back from a tough season where he went 7-13.
In the major league's first regular-season game, he'll face Texas left-hander and All-Star Matt Harrison , who went 18-11 in 2012 and signed a five-year contract worth $55 million in the offseason.
Along with their new league, there are plenty of other changes for the Astros this year. They've got a first-year manager in former Washington third base coach Bo Porter , and will don new uniforms which bring back the orange color associated with better times in Houston.
Porter said he ignores what outsiders have to say about his team."That's not hard for me because when I look in the mirror I see a winner," Porter said. "No one can make me have a different perception of myself because I know the effort I'm going to put into making sure our team is prepared."
After trading away most of their veterans over the last couple of years to restock a once-depleted farm system, some in baseball have suggested the Astros are trying to lose. Owner Jim Crane, who enters his second year with the team, brushed off that notion."That's totally wrong and we would never do that," he said.
He does however understand that fielding a team like this invites judgment."You're going to get the criticism," he said. "We've told people what we're going to do and we're sticking to the plan. Everybody is welcome to their opinion and we're going to get a lot of opinions. So hopefully we'll prove the naysayers wrong and we'll play a lot more competitive this year."
The Rangers and Astros have traditionally played a home and home series each season, so facing each other is nothing new. But this year these teams, separated by about 250 miles, will meet 19 times."They're close and it's a natural rivalry, and we hope to build that up and make it a good tradition for the state of Texas," Crane said.
Rangers manager Ron Washington knows better than to take any team lightly, regardless of expectations."I don't look at their payroll, I just look at the days we play them and make sure we don't think any games for granted, because on any given day anyone can get beat," Washington said. "It's not the best team that wins; it's the team that plays the best."
Washington has known Porter for years, and believes he'll help speed Houston's development."They have some young talent, inexperience, but believe me, they're going to play," Washington said. "I still think that it's going to be a tough year for them, but they're not going to be anybody's doormat, I think Bo Porter and his staff will see to that."
Lance Berkman is in his first season with the Rangers after two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. The slugger spent the first the first 11 1/2 years of his career with the Astros."It's going to be weird," he said of Houston's move to the AL. "The Astros spent 50 years in the National League and now to think of them as an American League franchise is going to be tough. I guess we'll have to get used to it because, like it or not, that's the situation ... I don't like it because I like having a National League franchise in Texas."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins and AP freelancer Tim Price contributed to this report.
|March 24, 2013||Neftali Feliz||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 03, 2013||Martin Perez||Day-to-Day||Fractured left forearm|
|March 30, 2013||Alex White||60-Day DL||Right elbow strain|
|March 27, 2013||Fernando Martinez||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Astros and their spiffy new uniforms looked like a perfect fit in the American League.
Rick Ankiel and the Astros made an impressive debut in the AL, trouncing the Texas Rangers 8-2 Sunday night in the major league opener and giving Bo Porter a win in his first game as manager.
"To come out with a win is perfect," Astros designated hitter Carlos Pena said. "To be part of it is really cool. To play our rivals here in Texas and to come out on top today, it's a treat."
Ankiel launched a pinch-hit three-run shot for the majors' first homer this season, Bud Norris pitched well for the win and Erik Bedard threw 3 1-3 scoreless innings for his first career save.
Having switched from the National League to the AL in the offseason, the Astros earned their first opening day victory since 2006 and the 4,000th regular-season win in franchise history.
The Astros are coming off consecutive 100-loss seasons and has the lowest payroll in the majors, prompting many to predict they will be the worst team in the majors. But Houston opened in style wearing uniforms that brought back the orange and blue of old-school Astros teams.
After the game, rapper Drake's rags-to-riches hit "Started from the Bottom" played on a loop in the clubhouse. Houston, which has finished last in the majors each of the last two seasons, decided the song would be its postgame music after wins this season.
Justin Maxwell added a pair of triples and made a nifty catch in center field.
Norris (1-0) allowed five hits and two runs with five strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings. He was one of five Astros making their first opening day start on baseball's second-youngest team.
"To sit at 1-0 right now feels pretty darn good, and we've just got to go back out there on Tuesday and play some more baseball," Norris said.
Bedard shut down the Rangers on one hit the rest of the way for his first save in a 10-season career.
Porter, who at 40 is baseball's youngest manager, insisted all spring that this team would be much better than last season.
"It's more about the concepts that we've implemented," Porter said. "They do a great job with the information we provide and it allows them to play with confidence and allows them to play fast."
As Houston began a new era with the move to the AL, the Rangers were embarking on a new chapter without 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton . Along with Hamilton's departure to the Angels, Texas also lost catcher Mike Napoli and infielder Michael Young .
The loss snapped a streak of four straight opening day victories by the Rangers. Former Astros star Lance Berkman had two hits in his first game as Texas' designated hitter.
"I think there have been some people who have been disparaging in their analysis of their talent level, but this is the major leagues, and any team is capable of beating any other team on a given night," Berkman said.
He isn't worried about their offense coming around.
"If you look at the back of our baseball cards, I think we're pretty stinking good," he said.
Matt Harrison (0-1), who signed a $55 million contract this offseason, yielded six hits and five runs and tied a career high with nine strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings.
Maxwell's two-out triple in the fourth inning broke a scoreless tie and gave Houston a 2-0 lead. The ball bounced off the wall in left field and scored Brett Wallace and Carlos Pena , who both got on with singles. Umpires reviewed the play to make sure it wasn't a home run, and upheld the call.
An error by right fielder Nelson Cruz let Houston score a run in the fifth, and Jose Altuve singled home another.
Harrison put runners at first and second with walks in the sixth and was replaced by Derek Lowe with two outs. Ankiel, the one-time pitcher with St. Louis, connected on his fifth career pinch-hit homer, a full-count shot to right field that made it 7-2.
Norris had a tough second inning and had to use 26 pitches to escape, striking out Mitch Moreland . Norris got on a roll from there, retiring nine of the next 10 batters.
Norris ran into trouble in the sixth when Ian Kinsler drew a walk and Berkman hit a one-out single. Murphy's two-out single sent Kinsler home to make it 4-1. Cruz followed with a groundball single that rolled just out of reach of diving shortstop Ronny Cedeno to score Berkman and chase Norris.
Chants of "Cruuuuuuuz" filled the stadium, indicating the large number of Rangers fans who made the 250-mile trip from Dallas. Norris was replaced by Erik Bedard , who is Houston's fifth starter, but won't be needed for a while in the rotation because of off-days.
NOTES: Altuve got the first hit of the 2013 season. ... These teams have a day off Monday before resuming the series on Tuesday when the Rangers' Yu Darvish opposes Lucas Harrell . ... Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the NFL's defensive player of the year, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Watt, who said he threw a bullpen session to prepare for the task, threw a strike. ... Texans star receiver Andre Johnson was also in the sold-out crowd of 41,307. ... Lyle Lovett performed the national anthem.