Here are three reasons why the Houston Astros will make the playoffs.
I’m seeing a great deal of pessimism from Houston Astros fans right now. It’s no wonder, considering the team recently completed a dreadful 2-9 road trip and has looked utterly lost at times. They’ve fallen out of the race for the AL West title and are now battling the Seattle Mariners for second place and the accompanying playoff spot.
Many are doubting this team’s ability to make the postseason, but I see it differently. That road trip was atrocious, yes, but it’s not the end of the season. There are many things that favor the Astros over these last couple of weeks of the season, and the odds are definitely on their side.
We saw a glimpse of it on Saturday when the team erased a three-run deficit in the ninth inning, scoring five times off Kenley Jansen. The offense has struggled at times, and so has the pitching staff, but there’s enough here to give me confidence that the Astros will still be playing in October. Here are three reasons why I think so.
It helps if we look at this as a three-team race between the Astros, Mariners and Angels, because whoever finishes in third place in this division is unlikely to get one of the final two playoff spots (the Indians and Blue Jays are in position for those). The Astros have a two-game lead over the third-place Mariners and a 4.5-game lead over the Angels. We can pretty much write the Rangers off.
The Astros have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule. Including tonight, the Astros have six games against the Rangers, three against the Mariners and three against the Diamondbacks. That means nine of their final 12 games are against last-place teams, and the other three are against a team that’s below .500.
In addition to their three against Houston, the Mariners have three against the Padres, four against the A’s and two against the Giants. So seven of their remaining 12 games are against teams with winning percentages at .625 or better. The A’s are in first place and the Padres are one of the hottest teams in the game right now and are nipping at the Dodgers’ heels.
Speaking of the Dodgers, that’s who the Angels will face to end their season. They do face the D’backs and Rangers this week, but their final five games come on the road against the Padres and Dodgers. The Angels might make it interesting over the next week, but it’s hard to see them finishing strong, and it’ll take a heck of a run for them to overtake both teams ahead of them.
Everyone’s Coming Back
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For the first time all season, the Astros are about as healthy as they’re going to get. Yordan Alvarez is done for the year, of course, and Roberto Osuna has not begun to throw and thus is unlikely to return, but pretty much everyone else is either back on the field or close to it.
Jose Altuve returned last night and Lance McCullers is set to return tonight. Blake Taylor should be back soon as well. The biggest one of all, of course, is Justin Verlander, who the Astros are anticipating to be ready soon. Adding the future Hall-of-Famer to the rotation could be the boost this team needs, and it would deepen what’s been a thin pitching staff this season.
If the Astros are as healthy as they can be, there’s no reason they can’t put together a nice run over these final two weeks to sew up that playoff spot.
There’s a reason the oddsmakers and playoff projections are so bullish on the Astros despite their many injuries and the several contributors who’ve had poor seasons thus far. When you compare them to the Mariners and Angels, there’s really no argument that the Astros are far superior in terms of the talent they have on the field.
The Mariners have a number of interesting young talents, but they’re inexperienced and the team still has holes, especially on the pitching side. The Angels have some notable players in their lineup but also several lineup holes, and their pitching staff simply hasn’t been good for years.
The Astros have a collection of All-Stars, several of whom haven’t played their best this year. But their ceiling is so much higher than the other teams, and they’ve been in this position before. This team was one win away from a second championship last year, so they won’t fold under pressure.
Verlander and Zack Greinke atop the rotation along with this incredibly deep lineup is something the other teams simply can’t match. With everyone coming back and a favorable schedule, there’s every reason to think this collection of stars is going to end up on top in this three-team race for the postseason.