Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 9/17/12

There have been times throughout the year, and not infrequently, when the Astros' 2012 season has felt like a distraction from all the upheaval going on around the club. Sure, there were games to be played -- the league office mandated 162 of them, to be exact -- but there was bigger business at hand.

Between the lines, it was all about evaluation for 2013, especially after games really took a back seat to the almost daily trade action in July. By that point, any prayer of contention was out the door.

Off the field, it has been a wild season as well. Attention was focused for much of the spring on the Astros' first No. 1 draft pick in 20 years (and their next will likely come next year). And just about every position of leadership has turned over, from owner and general manager to scouting director and, at least on an interim basis, manager.

Therein is why, even with just 15 games left to play, it's time to focus the attention back on the field.

For months, the Astros were plodding toward 110 losses with little interruption before, during or after the replacement of manager Brad Mills with Tony DeFrancesco. One could figure who had the advantage in every tight playoff race by who had the most games remaining with the Astros. (By the way, it's the Cardinals with six as they try to protect their tiny wild card lead.)

But not anymore. After the Astros had lost every series against a contender since mid-June, DeFrancesco has led them to two huge series wins in the last two weeks.

First it was the Reds, who have a big enough lead that losing two of three to the Astros should just delay the celebration. Then it was taking three of four from the Phillies and dealing a critical blow to their once surging wild card chances. The Astros, who won just eight games combined in July and August, are 8-7 in September.

DeFrancesco interviewed for the full-time position as manager on Thursday and was expected to be a longshot. New owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow have made a pattern of bringing in their own people for the other positions of leadership, and DeFrancesco was a product of the old regime.

But this recent play surely gives some small boost to his resume even though the big picture is about development.

"It's back and forth," DeFrancesco said of the balance between winning and trying to groom players for next year. "Me and Jeff are communicating every day with the lineup. Do we put up a winning lineup? Or maybe there's a guy we want to give more at-bats because maybe there's a future for him."

The way it has played out, it mostly has been a 2013 preview lineup to start the game and wholesale changes in the later innings, 2013 be damned.

Whether DeFrancesco is with the major league club in 2013 will likely be decided in the next couple of weeks. Both internal and external interviews have begun, and other candidates whose names have surfaced in various reports include Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, Nationals third base coach Bo Porter and former Phillies manager Larry Bowa.

Luhnow has declined comment on the particulars of the search but did lay out his set of qualifications for the job.

"We're very focused on finding a candidate who shares our vision as an organization and finding a candidate who is capable of creating the kind of environment in the clubhouse that is conducive for our players to develop ... and to create that winning mindset at the major league level," Luhnow said.

That mindset is slowly turning around amid four years of losing and two years of exaggerated losing. More than anything, the Astros hope to turn the product on the field at the major league level into the main attraction.

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