We are approaching the final month of regular-season baseball

Astros roundup: September callups, closing in on 100 wins, and more

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After stomping the Angels to complete the weekend sweep, Houston now sits with an 85-47 record, which has them tied with the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League, and just one game behind the Dodgers for the best overall record in the league. They will wrap up the month of August with arguably their toughest remaining series in the regular season; a three-game series with the Rays here in Houston.

They should be favored to win that series considering they will have the top three of their shiny, new rotation in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and newly acquired Zack Greinke, who is 4-0 with Houston since his July 31st trade. With their current record, the Astros would need to simply split the remaining thirty games 15-15 to finish with their third-straight 100-win season. Considering how dominant they've been against their division, it would seem they are more in line for a new franchise record.

Besting the 2018 regular season

In 2018, Houston finished the regular season with a franchise-best 103-59 record. They did so with one Cy Young candidate in Justin Verlander and one MVP candidate in Alex Bregman. In 2019, they've expanded on that, pitting teammates Verlander and Gerrit Cole against each other with what can be considered a two-man race towards the prestigious pitcher's award, along with adding another MVP-caliber player to their roster in Michael Brantley.

First, let's talk about Cole and Verlander. The teammates currently sit first and second in AL ERA with a 2.75 and 2.77 respectively. While four NL pitchers sit ahead of them for the overall league-best ERA, if you look at strikeouts, it's a different story. The strikeouts between these two aces have been quite the show to watch, with Verlander currently ahead of Cole by one at 239 vs. 238, which is good for first and second-best in the entire league. Add to that the seventh-best ERA (2.83) and thirtieth-best strikeout total (150) with Zack Greinke, and that top three of the rotation is going to be a force to reckon with in the playoffs. Then, if you get past them, you still have Wade Miley who currently sits with a 3.13 ERA, 129 strikeouts, and 1.20 WHIP.

So, no question the Astros have gotten better in terms of starting pitcher this season. But that's not all; they've also gotten better in the batting order. A little less than a month ago, I broke down the possible awards Houston could be in line for before it was all said and done in 2019. One of those awards was a batting title for Michael Brantley. My thought then, and I quote was:

He could easily heat up and outpace the two in front of him before the end of the regular season, or stay consistent, and wait for them to fall below him.

It turns out both have happened with a little more than a month left on the regular-season calendar. Brantley extended his current hitting streak to 18 games in the series finale against the Angels, which has him up to a league-best .338 average. That's right, not only is he ahead of the AL (D.J. LeMahieu sits third with a .330 average), he's leading the entire MLB in batting average. Again, considering the schedule that awaits the Astros to finish off the season, Brantley could easily stay consistent and win a batting title for his new team.

The roster only gets better in September, with perhaps a return of Tucker

When the rosters expand in September, another thing that the Astros have in their favor is some guys with major-league experience. When asked about who Houston may bring up to contribute down the stretch, A.J. Hinch stated that it would likely be guys that have seen major-league action before. While there are a few bullpen arms that fit that bill, another notable player currently on the 40-man roster that could be added to the Astros' big-league lineup to try and contribute in the final month: Kyle Tucker.

Tucker has had a phenomenal year in AAA this season, showing that he could be ready to return to the majors and prove that his lackluster debut last year was simply a fluke. In any case, since he's already on the 40-man roster and will require no penalty to be brought up, the Astros might as well throw him in the lineup to give guys like Michael Brantley and George Springer some rest days in the final month.

Beyond the expanded roster, we are once again awaiting a return of some key players from injury with Aledmys Diaz and Carlos Correa. Both are not expected to miss significant time from their recent injuries, with Diaz potentially returning on Tuesday of this week and Correa nearing a return sometime in September. That would mean, barring any truly unfortunate injuries in the coming weeks, that the Astros are basically at full strength heading into October.

If they can bring up some of the triple-A talents to fill a position in some of these easily-winnable remaining games, the Astros going into the playoffs healthy and firing on all cylinders could mean that everyone else is playing for second place, both in the ALCS and in the World Series.

Let's take a look at potential playoff matchups

Speaking of the ALCS, let's take a look at what the Astros have to gain by finishing the last 30-some days on top of the American League. As mentioned, as of Sunday night with the Yankees beating the Dodgers to win that entertaining series 2-1, that puts Houston and New York tied at 84-47 each.

Now, while there are still plenty of games to be played, I find it necessary to note that should the two teams finish tied, the Astros would get the advantage thanks to a 4-3 win in the series matchup between the two. So, let's assume that New York and Houston are locks for the playoffs as division winners. Considering that both are leading their respective divisions by 9-plus games, that seems likely. That leaves the Al-Central as the other division winner, which currently had a tight race between the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians. If the loser of that division takes one of the wild-card spots along with either the Rays or the A's, then they are playing for a chance to play in New York or Houston, where they will be underdogs to continue their season.

That's where home-field advantage becomes paramount for the Astros. Should they finish with a worse record than the Yankees and have home-field advantage for an ALDS matchup with the Indians or Twins, I would give Houston the advantage. However, if they have to play four out of seven in New York, it gets much more tricky for the Astros.

If you remember back in 2017 in the ALCS against New York, the home team won every game in that series, which, thanks to Houston's home-field advantage, made them 4-3 winners. If you look at the seven-game regular-season matchup between the two teams this season, there was a similar trend. The Astros won all three games in Houston, then managed to salvage just one of four in New York. Those games took place in the first half of the season, but it doesn't make it any less daunting to try and face this season's Yankees team on the road.

With both the Yankees and Astros playing similar schedules to finish the year, it will be hard for Houston not to get pre-occupied with the standings. But, if they can stay on top of their game and take care of business against the team on the field with them through September 29th, they should come out ahead.

Houston's magic number is down to 1

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 6-4 win

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After the mini-sweep of the Rangers concluding with win number 100 on the season which secured a playoff spot, the Astros turned their sights to clinching the division. With their magic number at 2, they could clinch on Friday with a win in the series opener against Los Angeles and an Oakland loss. Here is a recap of the first game of the weekend against the Angels:

Final Score: Astros 6, Angels 4.

Record: 101-53, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zack Greinke (17-5, 3.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jaime Barria (4-10, 6.43 ERA).

1) Starting with a bang

With a chance to clinch their division and continue to lead the battle for playoff home-field advantage, Houston came out swinging on Friday night. In the first inning, the Astros blasted three home runs with solo shots from Jose Altuve which led off the inning, and Alex Bregman as he tries to catch the sidelined Mike Trout for a possible MVP award.

Later in the inning, Carlos Correa took advantage of a runner on base with a home run of his own, a two-run bomb to extend the lead before Josh Reddick tacked on one more with an RBI-single to make it 5-0 after one.

2) Greinke struggles in the fourth but finishes five innings

Zack Greinke allowed just two hits through the first three innings: a single and a solo home run which at the time cut the lead to 5-1. Carlos Correa pushed the lead back to five runs with his second home run of the night in the bottom of the third.

Greinke would struggle in the top of the fourth, however, allowing five straight hits which would score three runs to cut Houston's lead to 6-4. He would recover and toss a 1-2-3 fifth, but that would be it for him in a five-inning start, as Houston passed the ball to their bullpen to throw the last four frames. His final line: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

3) Houston's bullpen dominant the rest of the way

Josh James was the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen to take over for Greinke in the top of the sixth and erased a two-out walk to complete a scoreless inning. Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance in a month after having surgery on his knee, returned dominantly with a 1-2-3 inning.

Will Harris did the same in the top of the eighth, holding the two-run lead going to the ninth. Roberto Osuna had the chance for another save in the top of the ninth and converted it to finish off the 6-4 win. That reduced the magic number to one, meaning the Astros are now a win or Oakland loss away from clinching the American League West. They are also just two wins away from matching last year's franchise number of 103.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set with the Angles will be on Saturday at 6:10 PM. Wade Miley (14-5, 3.71 ERA) will get the start for Houston while Patrick Sandoval (0-3, 4.91 ERA) is expected to be on the mound for Los Angeles.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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