How Astros final stretch of games will perfectly set the tone for postseason
Major League Baseball is drawing close to the end of the regular season. Brace yourselves. Playoff baseball is upon us. There are fan bases out there that will have unreal expectations while holding on to hope looking at their teams' Magic Number. Look away because your team won't make it. The teams that will make it, mainly the ones in the Wildcard games in both leagues, won't be around long either.
The Astros aren't one of those teams. They have designs on winning another World Series and shutting up all the haters. Winning in 2017 is "tainted" according to others. Coming within five outs of winning the 2019 World Series is still seen as them "cheating", even though MLB's report says otherwise. Perception is often reality for the willfully ignorant. Winning a World Series this year would undoubtedly be the biggest middle finger salute to all the haters out there.
All season long, this team has either played up or down to the level of its competition. Coming down the stretch, they're playing the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's. The Rays are the best team in the American League. The A's are behind the Astros by a handful of games in the AL West, as well as a handful of games behind the Red Sox and Yankees for the two AL Wildcard spots. These two teams present the perfect tune-up for the Astros heading into the playoffs.
Playing the Rays is a preview of a potential ALCS matchup. The Rays have the number one seed in the AL locked up. They'll have home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. The Astros are pretty entrenched at the number two spot. They'll have home-field advantage over the third seed in the second round most likely. This series gives the Astros a good look at the team they'll have to overcome if they expect to get back to, and win, another World Series. They have a perfect blend of pitching, hitting, youth, and veteran presence. If you want a good sparring partner, they're it.
The A's are like that pesky little fighter who fights the full 12 rounds, doesn't get knocked down, barely wins a couple rounds, but manages to hang on while gracefully losing a unanimous decision. They have enough talent to fight you tooth and nail, but not enough stamina to outlast you. The A's will make the Astros get more consistent and fine tune things right as they hit their stride into the playoffs.
If the way they've played so far this season is any indication, the Astros should win both series and head into the playoffs with some much-needed momentum. While both teams present a challenge, the Astros have enough to meet each challenge. I can see them owning this home stretch and having it catapult them into another ALCS appearance. The petty part of me wants them to beat the Yankees' Gerrit Cole at Minute Maid in the playoffs to end their season, then go on to beat either the Red Sox or A's in the ALCS. It would be satisfying getting the series clinching hit off that snitch in Oakland. However, since that's not in the cards this season, poetic justice would be hoisting another Commissioner's Trophy followed by another parade through downtown Houston. Oh, how I would love for them to force the haters to EAD!