I’m a believer in a measured approach to the 162 game season, not getting too high or too low as the April-to-October schedule of regular season games plays out. Yet, as the calendar turned to September it seemed to me that the current Houston Astros series with the Seattle Mariners was a little more important than your run of the mill early September series.
Monday’s 11-2 Astros win not only improved the Houston’s lead in the AL West to 5.5 games over Seattle and six over the Oakland A’s, it showed what this team is capable of on any given night: Solid pitching, scoring runs in bunches and solid defense.
The Mariners were making a push past the fading Athletics to become the biggest challenger to the Astros for the AL West title.
What’s ahead? Here’s a look at the schedule for each of the three AL West contenders for the remainder of the regular season:
Astros (25) Home: 14 Away: 11 AL West Contenders: 8
9/7-9/8 Mariners (2)
9/10-9/12 Angels (3)
9/13-9/16 at Rangers (4)
9/17-9/19 Diamondbacks (3)
9/20-9/23 at Angels (4)
9/24-9/26 at A’s (3)
9/28-9/30 Tampa (3)
10/1-10/3 A’s (3)
Mariners (24) Home: 12 Away: 12 AL West Contenders: 9
9/7-9/8 at Houston (2)
9/10-9/12 Arizona (3)
9/13-9/15 Red Sox (3)
9/17-9/19 at Kansas City (3)
9/20-9/23 at A’s (4)
9/24-9/26 at Angles (3)
9/27-9/29 A’s (3)
10/1-10/3 Angels (3)
A’s (25) Home: 13 Away: 12 AL West Contenders: 13
9/7-9/9 White Sox (3)
9/10-9/12 Rangers (3)
9/14-9/16 at Kansas City (3)
9/17-9/19 at Angels (3)
9/20-9/23 Mariners (4)
9/24-9/26 Astros (3)
9/27-9/29 at Mariners (3)
10/1-10/3 at Houston (3)
The Astros have definite advantages: a 5.5 game lead with 25 to play, the best batting average (.267), wRC+(117) and average with RISP (.271) in MLB, the 4th best starters ERA (3.50) and an improved bullpen.
The schedule also favors the Astros as the majority of their remaining games are at Minute Maid Park. While the last nine could be tough (six with Oakland and three with Tampa), before that there’s a stretch of 14 straight games with the Angels, Rangers and Diamondbacks.
Meanwhile, the Mariners have two left in Houston, seven against Oakland and three with the Red Sox. It’s no piece of cake for the A’s either as they face three with the White Sox, seven with the Mariners and three in Houston. FanGraphs gives the Astros a 97.4% chance to win the West and a 98.3% chance to make the playoffs.
Working through this logically, those numbers make perfect sense. If the Astros finish with the same winning percentage as they have right now (.584) they’ll go 15-10 (rounding) down the stretch and finish with 95 wins. In that case, the Mariners would have to finish 20-4 to tie the Astros.
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Too optimistic you say? A 13-12 finish would help the Mariners and A’s a bit, but it’s still a stretch to believe either of those teams has what it takes to go 18-6 (Mariners) or 19-6 (A’s) down the stretch.
Despite what I said at the beginning, these games against the second place team at this part of the season are a bit more important.
I like to think of them as two games in one: You not only gain a win (and a game in standings), but it’s one less opportunity for your opponent to win. The vice is tightening just a little with each Astros win, doubly so when playing the Mariners and A’s.
Should the Astros win tonight whoever ends up in second place in the morning will be at least six games behind with 24 games left for Houston to play. One more turn of the vice.
It’s not over till it’s over, but the odds are long that any team but Houston will be the 2021 AL West Champion. The Astros are back in action on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. with Jake Odorizzi countering right-hander Logan Gilbert.