I spent the first few days of the 2016 season in the Astros clubhouse.
I was the first to arrive for a workout, a photo op with the team’s new manager, and to listen to the team talk about a few things: their roster, their bullpen, and their pitching.
This was the Astros’ first full-season appearance since 2008.
And I was there to watch the Astros finish with a 3-1 record.
The team has since moved to the American League West and is still in first place in the American Association, but I was at the forefront of a team rebuilding process that began more than a decade ago, and one that has had a major impact on the team, its players, and fans.
But the season was not a fluke.
As the Astros entered the year, I was still a young man with no idea what it was I was looking at.
I had never heard of the team.
And despite a growing sense of skepticism among my peers and the media, I stuck with the Astros and, for the most part, stuck to the same team.
My focus was on the Astros as I watched them climb from first place to the second-place Astros.
I thought they were going to be a good baseball team, but it’s hard to ignore the things they did wrong.
I remember thinking the first year was going to go down as a turning point in the franchise’s history.
It was the year that the Astros made the leap to the majors, but even then, they still didn’t have the roster to contend.
The Astros’ success would hinge on their bullpen.
After signing lefty Matt Garza in July, the Astros used a trade to acquire lefty Kyle Freeland from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick.
Freeland is a great lefty, and his plus fastball was one of the Astros biggest strengths in 2017.
He was just one year removed from a 4.18 ERA, which ranked No. 5 among qualified starters in the majors.
But while the Astros added another starter in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, they didn’t add another reliever.
In his first full season as a starter, Freeland struggled, throwing just nine innings and allowing 15 hits and 10 runs in 23 1/3 innings.
The rotation was good, but not spectacular.
The bullpen had a solid arm, but Freeland and Josh Fields were the only two relievers who had started in at least 75 percent of their appearances.
Fields was the closer and struggled, allowing seven earned runs in 13 2/3 frames, but he finished the season with a 4-4 record with a 5.16 ERA.
The rest of the rotation was much better.
Carlos Rodon and Brad Peacock, both of whom were starters in 2017, pitched to a combined 2.73 ERA and had the second most saves on the year with five.
The only starter to post a better ERA than their season average was Chris Archer, who had a 3.00 ERA and six saves in 24 2/ 3 innings.
With Fields gone, the bullpen was in desperate need of a star.
The first thing the Astros did in 2017 was trade for a right-hander in the Rule 5 Draft, selecting Carlos Torres.
He would become a starter for the first time in a decade, and he had a chance to be the teamís best.
But Torres wasnít going to play first base.
In the spring of 2018, the team signed right-handed reliever Jordan Smith.
Smith was a solid starter, but the Astros didnít have the money to keep him, and the money was no longer there for the right-handers.
Smith started the first two games of the 2018 season and threw two innings in his first start.
In July, Smith was moved to left-handed relievers and started three innings in a relief appearance.
The next month, he was moved again, this time to right-armed relief.
In August, Smith had his first major league start, giving up three runs on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
After that, he struggled, giving six runs on six hits with four walks and five strikeouts in six innings.
Smith then spent the rest of 2018 in Triple-A Columbus, giving away two runs on five hits with seven walks and four strikeouts.
Smith struggled again the next month.
He gave up three more runs on seven hits with six walks and nine strikeouts in four innings.
By September, Smith couldnít seem to get out of the inning without giving up four runs, including a grand slam that led to a two-run rally that gave the Astros the win.
The season didní’t really get off to a great start.
Smith spent the remainder of the year in Triple A Columbus, making only two starts.
Smith got hurt, and, in a season in which he was often the better pitcher, the first half of the season seemed to drag on.
The second half, however, was a