Astros are about to start their most crucial road trip of the season

codypoage
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 14: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros receives congratulations from third base coach Gary Pettis #8 after hitting a triple in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Minute Maid Park on August 14, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 14: Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros receives congratulations from third base coach Gary Pettis #8 after hitting a triple in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Minute Maid Park on August 14, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Following a disappointing stretch of home games, the Astros are back on the road for a while. The next nine games over ten days could prove to be vital to any postseason aspirations.

The Astros are back on the West Coast for a nine-game road trip. This time around they’ll stop in Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim as they traverse the Pacific Coast over the upcoming ten days. In the balance is the AL West title and possibly a Wild Card spot. Hey, the team and the fans would’ve love to be in this situation back in 2013. Isn’t it amazing to see how time and certain events alters our perception of situations?

I’m going to state the obvious and say that the Astros are about embark on their most crucial road trip of the season. After all, only a two-game lead separates them from the Athletics and four-and-a-half games from the Mariners. The AL West has an actual race and not only for a Wild Card spot. For a comparison of how the standings can change in less than a year, here is how the AL West is currently stacked and how it ended last season.

Table 1. AL West standings through August 16, 2018

Team        Record      Games Back
Astros      74-47                –
Athletics  72-49              2.0
Mariners  70-52              4.5
Angels       62-61            13.0
Rangers    54-69            21.0

Table 2. Final AL West standings in 2017

Team        Record      Games Back
Astros      101-61                –
Angels       80-82             21.0
Rangers    78-84             23.0
Mariners   78-84             23.0
Athletics    75-87            26.0

Quite frankly, the Astros had zero competition within the division last year. It made for easy sailing for most of the season. Fast forward nearly ten-and-a-half months later, and the AL West is much more competitive. Incidentally, Houston is relatively close to their pace from last season. It is the competition that has improved. The biggest change has come from the two teams within the division: the Athletics and Mariners. I can’t help but imagine if the race would be somewhat closer if the Angels didn’t suffer from notable injuries to their best players.

Houston currently has a 99.4% chance of qualifying for the postseason, yet the team has seen their division odds drop slightly to 92.9%. This road trip will play a key part in determining if the Astros repeat as AL West champions. Oakland has been playing great baseball for nearly the entire summer it feels like. Seattle was reeling until a recent four-game series sweep of the Astros at Minute Maid Park provided a spark. Give credit to those two teams for playing this well. I certainly wasn’t expecting it. At this point even a Wild Card spot isn’t an iron clad guarantee. Here is the current Wild Card standings as there are essentially three teams aiming for two spots.

Table 3. AL Wild Card Standings through August 16th, 2018

Team        Record      Games Back
Yankees    75-46                –
Athletics   72-49                –
Mariners   70-52              2.5

Depending on the outcome of the Astros’ road trip, the AL West could look quite different in a few days. Fortunately for Houston, the team has responded well to playing on the road with a 41-18 record. Though not a guarantee to continue, it is encouraging to see that the team does play well when away from its home park. Somehow the Astros are 33-29 at home. If there is one easily documented issue to address in the off-season, it’ll be how to perform better at home. Could be a fluke season, but I also feel there may be something underlying involved? Who knows for sure without interviewing players and coaches along with analyzing the data from home games.

dark. Next. Collin McHugh is having a special season as a reliever for the Astros

At least the team will regain the service of All-Star outfielder George Springer in time for the opening game in Oakland. Jose Altuve and Brian McCann may not be far behind in returning to the active roster, but only time will know for sure. But the return of Springer and Carlos Correa should help bolster a lineup that was clearly struggling before Wednesday’s 12-run outburst against the Rockies. The starting rotation and bullpen have done well enough to keep the team in games, although it will be nice to see more progress on Lance McCullers and Chris Devenski. Reinforcements are coming, but the Astros will have to weather the storm on this road trip. If they can, a repeat AL West title should be within their grasp. If not, well, the pressure mounts as the season heads into its final 32 games.

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