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Title track: 71
Fan relations: 66
Stadium experience: 58
Bang for the buck: 103
Change from last year: +27
These aren't your dad's -- or even your older brother's -- Astros. Suddenly, Houston boasts rising stars, a fun environment and, this year, even playoff baseball -- even playoff baseball at home, thanks to that wild card win over the Yankees. So it's no surprise that the Astros made the third-biggest jump among MLB teams and have leaped 49 spots since 2013.
Houston had one major problem for a few years: Its squad was basically talentless. That fact makes it all the more impressive that the Astros' best ranking in this year's standings came in the players category, at 39th. That's no doubt in large part because of shortstop Carlos Correa, who looks set to be one of the game's biggest franchise players. The No. 1 pick in the 2012 MLB draft is almost a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year and may soon be in the discussion with Mike Trout on the game's best all-around player. Correa has shown he can hit, hit with power, run, field and throw. Oh, and he's 21. Sabermetrics has played a big role in helping the Astros win this season. Superstars can get them to the next level.
There's not much to complain about for forward-thinking Astros fans, though it may take time (and more winning) to lure back everyone who jumped ship over the past couple of seasons. (Title track and ownership are climbing more slowly than other categories, still in the bottom half of the rankings.) GM Jeff Luhnow's multiyear plan always had a light at the end of the tunnel, but it was pretty dim there for a while. Now it's shining brightly, thanks to the likes of Correa and ace Dallas Keuchel. These wins are coming at a price, though -- their bang for the buck still ranks near the bottom.
The Astros improved in every category this year, showing what winning can do to change the perception of ownership and management. The team's biggest jump, 37 spots in fan relations, is in large part a result of its active social media presence -- with a mascot, Orbit, who provides plenty of material for the Internet and an entertaining in-person experience. A year ago, fans said they wanted the Astros to act like they were in the No. 4 market in the country. They're getting there. Next year, they could rank among the top baseball teams overall.