The Houston Astros have finished last in the majors the past two seasons and are showing every sign of doing it again.
With a 33-61 record, the Astros are well on their way to joining the 1962-65 New York Mets as the only teams with 106 or more losses in three consecutive seasons, according to STATS. Houston lost 106 games in 2011 and a franchise-worst 107 last year.
The negatives at the All-Star break, including the team's 69 errors and 863 strikeouts -- both tops in the majors -- are undeniable.
But those dreadful statistics don't tell the entire story of a young team focused on rebuilding from within. The first half of this season has given the Astros plenty of reason to be optimistic that their long-term plan will work just fine.
First-year manager Bo Porter, who at 41 is the youngest skipper in the big leagues, has been impressed by the attitude of his team as it navigates its first season in the American League.
"What I like about our ballclub is its resilience," Porter said. "We've had some ups and downs where we've played well and did not win games. We've had downs where our starting pitching just went awry. But one thing I give these guys credit, I give the staff credit, the entire organization, is everybody stayed positive. They come to the ballpark each and every day ready to fight the next day and put out maximum effort. The preparation has always been there."
Perhaps the most promising development has been the emergence of catcher Jason Castro. A first-round pick in 2008, Castro missed all of 2011 and half of last season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in spring training.
Castro was Houston's representative at this year's All-Star game after hitting .270 with 12 homers, 31 RBIs and 25 doubles.
He was surprised that it took him so long to feel normal after his injury. He began to improve late last season, but said this year his health and confidence are back to where they were before the injury.
"Now I'm at the point where it's like it never really happened," he said. "I don't really think about it, so I'm really happy."
The Astros are encouraged by his offensive production, but they love the effect he's had on Houston's young pitching staff.
"I think he's helped a lot," Porter said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys on the team. He does a great job of understanding our pitchers and how they can use their repertoire and their pitch selection to attack the hitters."
Though only 26, Castro has become a leader and likes the team improvement he's seen so far.
"I've seen a pretty big change even from earlier in the season just from the type of baseball we're playing," he said. "Our pitching has really come a long way and some of the younger guys on the staff have really matured and learned. The offense has done a good job. We're in a lot of the games that we don't win, so that's an encouraging sign. I'm excited to see where we're headed."
The Astros have also been helped this season by the continued solid play of second baseman Jose Altuve. This team, with the lowest payroll in baseball, made an investment in its future when it signed him to a four-year contract extension through 2017. The 23-year-old was an All-Star in 2012. He is hitting .280 with 15 doubles, three homers and 28 RBIs this season.
Another positive for the Astros has been the contribution of slugger Chris Carter, who is in his first full season in the majors. The 26-year-old, who was acquired in a trade with Oakland, leads the team with 18 homers and 47 RBIs.
Though his power is undeniable, the Astros are hoping his plate discipline will continue to improve so he can boost his .229 average. His 123 strikeouts are tied for most in the majors, but he's improved after working with hitting coach John Mallee.
"He got a little more attack in his stride and he's lining up to the ball out over the plate much better and consequently he's able to put some of those balls into play and start to stay through those balls and drive the ball better," Mallee said. "He's made some pretty good adjustments in his swing from the beginning of the season."
A recent bright spot for the Astros has been the turnaround of first baseman Brett Wallace. Wallace started for the Astros on opening day, but went 1 for 24 with 17 strikeouts and a .042 batting average and was sent to the minors in mid-April. He returned just before the break and hit .353 with three homers and eight RBIs in 11 games.
The Astros were also encouraged by pitcher Jarred Cosart's major league debut last week against Tampa Bay. The 23-year-old took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and got the win, allowing just two hits and no runs in eight-plus innings. He was optioned to Triple-A after the game, but is likely to return later this season.