It’s not getting any easier, but the playoffs aren’t out of the question in 2016.
After losing two out of three to the Texas Rangers over the weekend, the Houston Astros find themselves 7.5 games behind the Rangers in the race for the AL West crown. That deficit was compounded by a 2-5 road trip that included a series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before the Rangers series.
The AL Wild Card
The Astros offense pulled a Houdini against Toronto last week. Also disappearing: Houston’s claim to a wildcard birth. On July 23rd the club was within a half game of a wild card birth, but as of Sunday’s games they trail the second wild card spot, held by the Detroit Tigers) by four games.
Fangraphs has the Astros chances of securing a wild card birth at 10.7% which trains the odds of the Red Sox (41.8%), Blue Jays (41.6%), Tigers (28.1%), and Mariners (13.7%). On August 1st Houston’s wild card chances sat at 22.6%. Proof that a lot can change in a week.
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The AL East race should eat into the chances of the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles. If those teams split their remaining games that could provide an extra game or two of wiggle room in the wildcard race. The Tigers Pythagorean win-loss record of 58-53 is three games better than their actual record of 61-50. Conversely, the Astros Pythagorean win-loss record is 59-52, two games better than their actual record of 57-54. Those could all work in the Astros favor if they compete well in the American League down the stretch.
The AL West
Chances are those of you still reading this haven’t jumped off the Astros bandwagon and are looking for some hope. The road to the playoffs got a lot harder over the weekend, but all hope is not lost. On August 7th of last year, the Astros held a 5.5 game lead over the Rangers in the West. The Rangers went on to win the division by two games, a 7.5 game swing in the final two months of the season. (The Astros are now 8.5 back)
At the same time last year, there were still seven games left between the two Texas clubs. The Astros went on to win just 2 of those games. This time around these clubs will meet six more times again. If the Astros can flip the script and go 5-1 or better, they would be right back at even in the division race.
The next series against the Rangers starts Friday, September 2nd in Arlington. If the Astros want a chance for a few winner-take-all games in September, they’ll have to hold serve over this next month.
The Upcoming Schedule
The most enticing portion of the remaining schedule are the seven remaining games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The team is 11-1 against the Angels this season and has won 11 consecutive contests against the team that has spent most of the season at the bottom of the AL West. All of those remaining games come in the final ten games of the season, setting the club up for a strong finish heading into October.
Before the team gets there, they have 15 games against the division-leading Texas (7.5 games), Baltimore (4 games), and Cleveland (4 games). They will also face the Twins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Rays, Cubs as well as their other divisional opponents the Athletics and Mariners. Of those 51 remaining games, 31 of them are against teams with winning records. It’s going to be a tough road, but the Astros are more than capable of closing the gap in the division and the wild card race.
For more than two months, this team was the best team in baseball. Playoffs or not, rest assured that they’ll make the playoff race come down to the wire. What do you think?
***Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference***