With a 4-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night, the Baltimore Orioles officially eliminated the Houston Astros from playoff contention.
Mathematically, the Houston Astros were alive, but their decline began earlier than yesterday. And that decline reached the point of no return with just three games remaining on the schedule.
On Thursday, September 22nd the Houston Astros were just one game out of a wild card birth with 10 games remaining against the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels. To that point the Astros had won 10 of 17 against the Mariners and 11 consecutive games against the Angels. Coming into that fateful home stand the Astros had a 28% chance of making the playoffs (per Fangraphs), but it certainly felt better than that following a series sweep against the Oakland Athletics.
Then it all went down hill. Fast. An Albert Pujols home run sealed a 2-0 shutout at the hands of Angels’ starter Ricky Nolasco (4-6, 3.21 ERA). The Astros offense was tired and out of gas, scoring just 5 runs before the 6th inning and 14 total runs in the four game series against the Halos. The bullpen was overworked, surrendering 16 runs combined in the 8th and 9th innings on Friday and Saturday. The starting pitching wasn’t going deep into games, and hadn’t for several weeks.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Just how much better is the Houston Astros playoff rotation than the rest?
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
Offensively, the Astros ranked in the bottom half of the American League in batting average, runs, home runs, and on base percentage. The team just wasn’t reliable at the plate with the notable exceptions of MVP candidate Jose Altuve and up-and-coming prospect Alex Bregman who missed the final stretch with a hamstring injury. Even Altuve, who came into September with a .351 batting average over his first 132 games, struggled at perhaps the most critical time, hitting just .267 over the final 26 games of the season.
Starting Pitching Struggles
On the mound, the Astros starting pitchers were in the bottom half of the American League in ERA and home runs allowed (dead last), while being among the worst in WHIP (11th worst), Walks (6th worst), and batting average against (4th worst). As a whole, the staff was very hittable. Lance McCullers, who left an August second start with an injury and hasn’t pitched since, was responsible for 106 of their 769 strikeouts. Doug Fister fell apart down the stretch and the team had to rely on Brad Peacock to pitch meaningful innings in September
The relief corps led the American League in strikeouts. They kept this team afloat for the majority of the season and managed to finish 4th in the league in ERA (3.55), despite posting a higher ERA in each month since their best mark of 2.33 in May of this year. Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Ken Giles, all proved their worth over the course of the season, but in September it all seemed to fall apart.
At the end of the day, this team never really played up to their expectations or potential. This team is going to finish a few games below the top four clubs in the American League, and that feels about where they belong. This team just wasn’t playoff caliber. They certainly weren’t a bad team, but they weren’t elite either.
There were plenty of encouraging things to carry forward into next season, and plenty of roster questions that will have to be addressed too. We’ve got another promising season ahead of us. What does this team need to fix in order to make a deep playoff run in 2017? Do they add a front line starting pitcher, a reliable big-name veteran bat, or both? Stay tuned.
***Statistics courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs ***