Can Anyone Stop the Surprising Houston Astros?

It’s been a strange season in baseball. The aging Yankees are actually pretty good. The Nationals are, for some reason, pretty mediocre. The Mets are good. The stacked Padres roster can’t get it done on the field. The Tigers are lousy. And, most unbelievably of all, the Houston Astros are finally good.

 

Yes, those Houston Astros. The ones that have been all but irrelevant for a decade. The ones that were supposed to be on a long rebuilding project. They suddenly seem like the favorites to win a tough AL West, and they’re starting to look like a serious postseason threat, too. The question is: can anyone stop them? Here are three things that the Astros are looking to win this year – and all of the obstacles that may stand in their way.

 

The Division

 

As good as the Houston Astros have been this season (69-57, fourth-best in the American League), they haven’t been able to run away with their division. That’s because the AL West is no cakewalk. Three of the division’s five teams are above .500, and all three of them are in play for the division crown. The second-place Los Angeles Angels have a stacked roster that includes baseball’s best player, Mike Trout. The Texas Rangers seemed to be out of it at various points this season (their playoff odds went down to 5% several times), but they’ve surged recently and now sit in third. At the time of this writing, the Angels are just 5 games back of the Astros; the Rangers are just a 3.5 games behind the Astros.

 

Still, the Astros have the inside track to the division crown. They’ll get to face their rivals in person in one series each before the end of the season. According to MLB.com, the Astros have a 67.8% chance of winning the AL West.

 

The Wild Card

 

So what if the Astros can’t hold the division? Well, things will get a little tricky in a crowded field of AL contenders. The Astros have a 15.2% chance of winning the Wild Card, according to MLB.com – though of course the remaining 84.8% includes the odds they win the division (67.8%), giving them an 83% overall chance to make the playoffs one way or another. The third-place Angels are just a half-game behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot, so any of the three AL West contenders will have a decent shot at the Wild Card if they can’t capture the division crown. Still, with tough teams like Toronto in the mix, it would be better to stay away from the Wild Card entirely. The Astros’ only games against potential Wild Card contenders outside their own division will come this week against the Yankees.

 

 

The Playoffs

 

Once in the playoffs, the Astros will face even tougher competition than they’ve seen in the division. As good as their 69-57 record is, it would only be good for third in the AL East. And the league’s best team, the Kansas City Royals, already has more than 70 wins.

 

The good news is that the Astros look like a team built for the playoffs, thanks in part to smart trade moves. They have a great one-two pitching punch in LHP Dallas Keuchel and LHP Scott Kazmir, both of whom are having great years. Kazmir was shipped over from Oakland, and he was exactly the sort of piece the Astros need (though he’ll need to shake off his last start, his worst of the season). Now they have another ace, and they should be able to pitch both men at least twice during a seven-game series, if necessary. Having great pitching will also ease the stress of a single-game playoff if the Astros get stuck with a Wild Card spot instead of the division crown.

 

Nothing – not even strong pitching – can guarantee a World Series, but the surprising Astros seem as well equipped as anyone to make a run this October. Only time will tell if they can pull off a season for the ages.

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