With an 84-68 record and standing a mere 0.5 game ahead of both the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers in the AL West, the Houston Astros seem to have hit a fork in their baseball destiny. For six consecutive years since 2017, the Astros have dominated the American League. This comes with five consecutive AL West titles in five full seasons. Topped with two World Series titles, with the recent one being last year, it appeared a dynasty was in the making.
But 2023? It hasn't been the stuff of legends. Not the way 2022 was. Instead, it's been a year characterized by injuries, fits and starts, moments of brilliance tarnished by all-too-frequent inconsistencies both offensively and defensively.
Home Isn't Where The Heart Is
For starters, lets take a look at their home record. For the most part, Houston has always dominated in the Juicebox. From the past five full seasons, the Astros have had a 260-145 record, with at least 51 home wins in each of the last three full seasons.
This year is a far cry from their previous efforts. The Astros' home record stands at 38-39, a clear sign of the larger inconsistency issues they're facing. In the last 18 home games, Houston has a slumping 5-13 record. This record includes games against below average teams. At home, Houston was both swept by the New York Yankees and lost the series against the Oakland A’s.
To think this was just a home winning issue, Houston failed to capitalize on their road efforts, losing the series against the 100+ loss team in the Kansas City Royals.
Social Media Warzone
It's become almost unbearable for die-hard Astros fans. On platforms like Astros Twitter, countless fans virtually try to step into the shoes of a major league manager, voicing their opinions on starting lineups, pitching decisions, and even critiquing Dusty Baker's managerial game decisions. Hot topic discussions range from debates about playing Yainer Diaz instead of Martin Maldonado, to arguments that Chas McCormick should receive everyday playing time and concerns about Michael Brantley's frequent days off since his comeback.
Complaints about Dusty's management online have been a common thread this season, which includes many things that can't be quoted in publications. It's shaping up to be that kind of season for Astros baseball.
Inconsistency Is Contagious
Yet, if you're an Astros fan, there's a silver lining: The inconsistency virus has spread over to the division rivals. The Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners have both been dancing to the same erratic tune. The Rangers, who were looking elite heading into the All-Star break, failed to maintain control in the AL West. Texas is now seemingly unraveling, raising eyebrows and questions about their playoff credentials. And the Mariners? They were stuck playing mediocrity's melody at .500 until mid-August when they ignited, only to cool down just as quickly.
The truth of this season? It's been a topsy-turvy ride for the trio of teams. One day, they're tasting the sweet promise of a wild card berth or even leading the AL West. The next? They're on the brink of playoff oblivion.
It's The Sum Of All Problems
Here's the takeaway for every Astros loyalist out there: Not one player is to blame from the current struggles the team faces on a day to day basis. It's the entire roster as a whole. It's the defensive struggles in crucial moments. It's the lack of situational hitting in close games. Everything from top to bottom seems to be a struggle to fix.
The team clearly needs a break. The only respite that matters is the first-round bye, the prize for capturing the AL West crown. With 10 crucial games to go, every pitch, every hit, and every play counts.
With their recent crushing losses against the Baltimore Orioles in seesaw affairs, it remains unclear whether or not the reeling Astros will try and establish control in the AL West with four home games remaining in the regular season.
Obviously, it behooves the team if they add some games to the win column on this final homestand against the O’s and the following series against the Kansas City Royals.
A Dire Series Still Lies Ahead
Whatever result comes from these games, the penultimate series of the regular season is set to feel postseason-esque. The Houston Astros will be taking on the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park for a three game set, a high chance that will inevitably determine who will take over the AL West crown. Seattle, of course, has the upper hand. The Mariners have been dominating Houston this season, with an 8-2 record against the Astros this year. Should Seattle and Houston be tied first and second in the West, Seattle would be crowned AL West Champions because they win the tiebreaker.
But here's the thing: challenges only serve to define champions. Given this rather inconsistent season, the Astros have shown time and again that when the stakes are highest, they rise to the occasion. So, bring on the Mariners. Maybe, just maybe, it's about time for our contagious streak of bad luck to break. After all, dynasties aren't defined by a single season, but by the strength of their spirit. And in that, the Astros are second to none.