HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Astros will make it official Sunday night when they face the Texas Rangers: They are an American League team — after 50 years in the NL.
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."