Astros AM: Wild Card Hunt Turns September Into Early Playoffs

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Aug 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Greg Garcia (35) reacts as Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Greg Garcia (35) reacts as Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman (2) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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The idea of winning the division race has become unrealistic, however, the Houston Astros remain in the hunt for a Wild Card berth.

We passionately devote six months out of the year with the hope of seeing our boys in the October spotlight. If playoffs is what we seek, then Houston Astros fans may very well have won the playoff lottery. Carrying on with that perspective we now have the pleasure of watching “playoff” baseball today, tomorrow, and the rest of the season. The Astros are only two games out of the Wild Card Hunt, and that hunt has turned September baseball into early “playoff” baseball.

Our Astros have been red hot of late, a stretch that started two weeks ago with a 5-2 road trip. Houston went into Baltimore and won three out of four after being destroyed in the first game of that series. The game we will look back on was this past Wednesday, when we scored three in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs to sweep Oakland.

Over the course of the last thirteen games it looked like the Astros were tired and were losing steam fast. The team now though appears to be energized for the stretch run. If you ask any Astro fan what the difference is, most will tell you it is Alex Bregman batting second. The Astros top four in the batting order would scare the daylights out of any pitcher.

Thankfully, Bregman has been able to adjust and improve upon his earlier struggles.

Prior to Bregman, it felt like any player the Astros called up from the minors that was a “Can’t Miss Prospect”, proved to be consistently overmatched at the big league level. Is it to early to say Bregman is going to be a superstar for years to come? Dare I say he could be reaching the second fastest Astro to collect a thousand hits team history? I am getting a little ahead of myself, but this kid is really something special with the bat in his hands.

Thank you, Alex, for busting the “Can’t Miss Prospect” drought. It is Bregman that has been coming up with clutch hits, timely home runs. His production also comes with K’s; remember the two outs in the bottom of the eighth situation when a passed ball that allowed Jose Altuve to come up to tie the game with a triple. That may have been one of the biggest moments of the year this past Wednesday.

Let’s see how Bregman does against Texas pitching, and I would not bet against him this weekend. You can tell he is determined to be a difference maker.

This is a good development because the Astros need to break the Rangers spell.

September playoff baseball starts with beating Texas. Going into Friday night the stats are pretty ugly. In thirteen games versus the Rangers, the team has went 2-11. The Astros have been outscored 53-38, and been out-homered 14-10. The pitching has had its issues with the Texas lineup holding an ERA of 4.15, while Texas starting pitchers have a 2.35 ERA against the Astros. In other words, we have been completely owned.

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The last series against Texas seemed to sway our way a little, and Dallas Keuchel tossed a complete game victory against Rangers.  That was a match up Astros fans were counting on. Well, until the team just announced that due to fatigue Keuchel will be pushed back to the Tuesday start in Cleveland this next week.

Part of playoff baseball is expressed in the phrase next man up. When one player goes down, it is a chance for another to express their presence with authority. The next player up in this case is the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the year Brady Rodgers. Rodgers went 12-4 winning the era title with a 2.86 ERA at Fresno this season. Congratulations Brady, we hope you are a household name by the end of October. With recent call up Joe Musgrove also scheduled to throw vs Texas, the Astros young guns will be called on for production on both sides of the ball.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Astros won the offensive time of possession battle against the Rangers this time around?

Regardless of what happens, remaining in contention in September still feels good.

Astro fans that watched religiously from 2010-13 will tell you that if your team is in the hunt in September then its been a good year to follow your team. Personally my heart was broken in April of this year. But I felt like a rich king by the All-Star Break.

As the tides of baseball roll forward you ride it, or fall out. Will this team show that they are too young to understand the odds against them? Only the ones between the chalk can answer our questions.

In these next thirty “playoff” games we should feel privileged to get to see so many high leverage match-ups. At this point in the season some organizations would consider meaningful games in September to be similar to the World Series in terms of atmosphere and pressure.

When you are scoreboard watching at this point, life is beautiful, and this is what baseball is all about.

In support of Military week, I wanted to send a shout out to my boy Sean Baldino serving over sea’s. Sean bleeds Yankee colors, but is also a closet Astros fan, and one heck of a clutch hitter.

**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference.com**

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