The Houston Astros and their wild, wild wild-card race
August and September were brutal for the Houston Astros. For all intents and purposes, the Astros looked to be nowhere near contention for the playoff race. To revive themselves, they had to go on an incredible run. Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Luis Valbuena and Ale Bregman were out, and so were fans’ hopes. Well, the Astros pulled a rabbit out of a hat with a 5-1 road trip through Seattle and Oakland, and a wild card bid is suddenly in their grasp.
In the Oakland series, spectacular play from Marwin Gonzalez, Tony Kemp and Jason Castro made it all possible. Castro’s pinpoint arm decided the final play of the game, and now the Astros look like a new team. There are 10 games left, and Houston is one game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot and two games behind the Toronto Bluejays for the first wild-card spot. The Astros hold their future in their hands, and it is going to lead to an exciting regular-season end.
So how will this season end for the Astros? They start this 10-game run against the Los Angeles Angels, followed by a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners. After that, the 2016 regular season wraps up in Anaheim with a three-game set against the Angels. Then, the road to the World Series officially begins.
Facing the odds
Now let’s look at the odds. Understand, with the Astros shooting for a wild-card spot, any mistake could literally end their season, and it looks like the Astros are determined not to let that happen. But what can you predict from past performances? Right now, the Astros are 11-1 against the Angels and 10-6 against the Mariners. So, if you were a betting man, putting a wager on the Astros to come out of this on top would be wise.
But at the end of the season, with everything on the line, records don’t matter. What is important is that the Astros do everything they can not to make a mistake and make it to the playoffs, and there will be two teams standing in their way.
The Angels could use a win. Because 11 of the last 15 games were losses, they’re allowed two runs in their last three games and four or more runs in their last set of 12 games. This is a very bad thing. They have an ERA of 4.42 and have lost the last seven of eight games, when they allowed more than three runs. Needless to say, they’re looking for a win. The Angels could be in prime position to cause an upset on will alone. Mike Trout leads LA with 165 hits, Yunel Escobar has 36 RBI and Albert Pujols has 30 home runs. Ricky Nolasco is 6-14 with a 4.78 ERA and 135 strikeouts this season, and the ball will be in his hands. Nolasco is 5-1 with a 4.38 ERA and 32 strikeouts in his career against the Astros.
The good news
The Astros are hot right now. They’re on a winning streak and are motivated to get to the playoffs. Jose Altuve leads the team with 202 hits, George Springer has 78 RBI and Carlos Correa has 20 home runs. Mike Fiers is on the mound (11-7 this season with a 4.46 ERA and 120 strikeouts). Fiers (in his career against the Angels) is 1-1 with a 5.92 ERA and 14 strikeouts. Even with a hit-or-miss offense, the Astros are in a prime position to do exactly what they are looking to do – win these games and head to the playoffs on a hot streak.
From sheer statistics, the series against LA is for the Astros to lose. It starts today, and there will be plenty of eyes watching to see if the Angels can end the winning streak the Astros are currently coasting on. Jeff Luhnow is expecting his boys to be primed and ready to go. Astros fans all over the world are waiting to see what will happen at the end of this baseball soap opera, full of plot twists and unexpected endings. Get ready for a heck of a show.
This will not be an easy run. The Astros know that. Any playoff team knows their focus has to be the end goal. Expect the Astros to play some amazing ball in these last 10 games.