The Houston Astros are now nine games back of the Texas Rangers in the American League West Division standings.
This difference is directly represented in the head-to-head match-ups. Now nearing the end of the regular season, the Astros find themselves outside of striking distance for the division. With just 19 games left in the season, they are 9.5 games out of first place. They do still have a chance to make the postseason as a wild card team. The Stros are 3.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays and are playing some pretty good baseball.
But the Astros have actually been the better team this season when not playing the Rangers. If they could have played as well against the Rangers as they have against the rest of the teams, they would be winning the division now.
The Rangers are sitting atop the AL West with a comfortable lead and no signs of letting up. Not only do they hold the division lead, but they also have the best record in the AL (85-59). The biggest problem with that is that the Astros are the biggest contributors to their winning ways. This season, the Stros are 3-13 against the Rangers.
The Rangers’ winning percentage over the course of the entire season is .590. In 16 games against the Astros, their winning percentage is a ridiculous .813. So if you were to take out those 16 lone star series games, their winning percentage against the rest of the league would be .563. This is still a great rate and would allow them to be in first at this point in the season.
However, the difference between a .590 and a .563 is about four games. If we apply the .563 winning percentage to the Rangers’ record, it comes out to 81-63 at this point. Also, on that pace, that would have them finishing the season at 91-71, which is still a playoff caliber season.
What if they could beat the Rangers every once in a while?
“The Astros’ winning percentage against the Rangers is an abysmal .188”
But, on that same track, the Astros’ winning percentage against the Rangers is an abysmal .188. Their record against the rest of the league is 72-55. That is an impressive .571 winning percentage. If the Astros were able to play as well against the Rangers as they play against the rest of the league, their record would be 80-63. This record would put them just one game behind the Rangers now. Just a 7-9 record against the Rangers this season and theoretically, that is where they would be sitting today.
Better still, if the Astros were able to play as well against the Rangers as they do against the rest of the league, they would be 82-61 at this point of the season, which would give them a one-game lead in the AL West race. On that pace, the Stros would finish the season with a 93-69 record and win the division by two games over the Rangers.
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Too little. Too late. (This season)
Obviously, all of this is moot this year because the Rangers have dominated the Astros. But, it could still be said that Houston is the better of the two teams. It may be that they get too amped up to play the Rangers or that the Rangers just have some secret formula for beating them. But, whatever the reason, the team’s poor play against them has likely cost them a division title.
The biggest difference between the two teams right now is age and experience. The Astros do not have an Adrian Beltre, a Carlos Beltran or a Cole Hamels on their squad. Their veteran leaders are guys like Jose Altuve (26), Dallas Keuchel (28) and George Springer (26). This lack of experience could be the reason for the Rangers having the upper hand in each of the past two seasons.
But as the Rangers continue to age, the Astros should continue to grow and mature. Next season there should be no doubt that the Houston team will be the favorite to win the AL West.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***