Houston Astros: Playoffs require stronger finish

Manager Dusty Baker and Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Manager Dusty Baker and Zack Greinke of the Houston Astros. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros hope to make the playoffs. Who do they need to outperform to get there?

Over their last 10 games, no MLB team has fared worse than the Houston Astros, who have lost eight contests. The ball club has lost consecutive series to a sub-.500 Angels squad, the AL West-leading Athletics, and the Dodgers—a team whose winning percentage leads all of MLB. Could the rough stretch just amount to the Astros experiencing a difficult strength of schedule?

Not likely—offensively, the Astros rank 18th in the majors in batting average, 22nd in on-base percentage, as well as 22nd in home run production. However, while the 2020 Astros have arguably underperformed with a capable roster, the team has exhibited a scrappy nature and remains in the top ten in the majors in runs scored as well as RBI production.

Defensively, besides stalwart individual contributions from the likes of Zack Greinke and Cristian Javier, the Astros’ pitching staff ranks a middle-of-the-road 16th in the majors in team ERA, as well as fifth worst in the bigs when it comes to walking batters. Opponents hit .244 on average against Houston’s pitching staff, which ranks the Astros in the bottom half of the majors. Additionally, Astros pitching ranks as low as 23rd in strikeouts and 17th in surrendered home runs.

Unfortunately, for the Astros, with only 13 games left before the conclusion of the shortened season, the ball club’s chances to secure a playoff berth may be in jeopardy. Urgency must win the day.

Optimists have touted the Astros’ chances to make up ground in the standings with seven September matchups remaining against a divisional opponent featuring the second-worst winning percentage in the AL, the Texas Rangers. Nevertheless, the Astros will still have to execute and earn their postseason berth.

As it stands now, the Astros sit a game below .500 entering Tuesday’s contest against their in-state counterparts. And with 13 games to go, the Astros will fail at finishing the condensed 2020 regular-season with a winning record unless they win eight of their remaining contests.

Nevertheless, the Astros appear beneficiaries of an expanded playoff schedule. The 2020 playoff picture allows for an unprecedented 16 teams to make the MLB postseason—a move that stands to aid the beleaguered Astros.

To punch a ticket to the postseason dance, the Astros must finish with either the first- or second-best record in the AL West, or have one of the two best remaining records in the AL after all top-two division finishers are seated in order for Houston to earn a wild card spot.

Currently, the Astros sit in second place in the AL West with a mediocre .489 winning percentage. Nipping at their heels, the Mariners sit only a game-and-a-half behind Houston for that coveted second-place spot. Meanwhile, Oakland features nearly a seven-game lead on the Astros and will most likely win the AL West pennant this season.

The Astros’ best—and perhaps only—chance to make the playoffs in 2020 is to finish in second place in the AL West. This remains due to the reality that unfortunately for Houston, at least three teams in the AL who are not ranked in first or second place in their divisions feature superior records to the Astros. For Houston to catch any of those three teams—Cleveland, New York, or Toronto—one of those ball clubs would have to lose the majority of its games while Houston would need to win the majority of its own.

September baseball takes on a whole new meaning for the Houston Astros, who must fight an uphill battle with their regular-season positioning to remain in the postseason picture. To use an analogy, the Astros have base runners in scoring position in a late-inning game and could really use an insurance run, because others still get to come up to bat, themselves. Indeed, this last stretch should show what the 2020 Astros—injury-depleted or otherwise—are really made of.