Houston is the odds-on favorite to win it all

Seriously, will anyone be able to beat the Astros?

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Even before the trade deadline acquisitions, Houston was starting to fire on all cylinders to march back to the top of the power rankings. Now, with Zack Greinke in the rotation, and seeing what Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini can provide as new arms on this pitching staff, the best has gotten better.

With the series sweep of the Mariners over the weekend, that gave them their fifth straight series win. Their last series loss was back at the end of June against the Pirates. Since that series, they have won eight and split two series, going 23-8 during that stretch of games.

Heating up in the summer

It's certainly been a hot summer for many Astros, including Gerrit Cole who is even closer than ever at matching Justin Verlander on top of the Cy Young ballot after two fantastic months that have earned him back-to-back Pitcher of the Month awards.

Sure, Verlander, Cole, and Greinke will get their due attention as the core three of the rotation, but let's not overlook Wade Miley. He has quietly strung together a great stretch of games himself, with his last loss coming on June 17th. His win against the Mariners on Friday moved him to ten wins, and with another good start could see his 3.05 ERA dip below 3.00, giving the Astros four starters with at least ten wins and a sub-3.00 ERA.

Then, there's the offense. Yuli Gurriel won a well-deserved Player of the Month honor with his numbers in July, driving in 31 runs in the month including twelve home runs and hitting for a .398 average over that span. So where does a hot bat like that get put in Houston's lineup? How about seventh. That's right when you've got George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Carlos Correa in your lineup, that puts a bat as hot as Yuli's fighting to even crack the top half of the order.

Getting healthy and better than ever

Two of those guys are looking great since returning from recent injury-list stints: Altuve and Correa. While Correa hasn't had a ton of hits since returning to the lineup, he has shown that his recovery from his rib injury has not affected his power. He has hit three home runs in his eight games back, including the big grand slam in St. Louis against the Cardinals which has helped him notch eight RBIs over those games.

As far as Altuve goes, he's looking like he did back in his 2017 MVP campaign. Since his return from injury, Altuve has been giving fans the type of offense they are accustomed to seeing; hitting .358 with a fantastic 1.025 OPS during that stretch. The recent string of success at the plate also has his average climbing, now back up over .300 despite sitting at a .243 before being sidelined.

And yet, these are just some of the guys having notable above-average success recently. I didn't even mention that Michael Brantley is still in the midst of the batting title race, Alex Bregman is getting walked as much as Mike Trout, or that Yordan Alvarez is on track to win Rookie of the Year.

Oh, and as far as the bullpen goes, not only did they acquire a new arm to reinforce their ranks, they've got guys doing well too. Will Harris has allowed just one run over his last ten appearances, and Chris Devenski is looking more like himself with three straight perfect outings himself. Meanwhile, they should get Ryan Pressly back soon, and will likely see Brad Peacock joining their ranks as well down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Put all this together, and it's no surprise that the books have shaken up over the last week to put the Astros as 2/1 favorites to win it all. But just for argument's sake, let's take a look at a few of the other teams at the top of the odds and consider how a series with them might go.

Let's talk Dodgers and Yankees

First, there's the Dodgers. They currently hold the best overall record in the MLB by way of playing one more game than the Astros. They certainly are a great team; you don't make it to the World Series in back-to-back seasons and be a top contender to do it again unless you have a great roster. They sit second in the World Series odds at 3/1 right behind Houston.

Although he just landed on the IL, they have the only qualified pitcher in baseball with an ERA under 2.00, with Hyun-Jin Ryu currently at 1.53 and an 11-2 record after 21 starts. They also have Clayton Kershaw, who despite his postseason struggles remains one of the best arms in the game. Along with those two, the Dodgers also have a young stud in Walker Buehler, another ten-win pitcher with a 3.22 ERA and decent strikeout numbers.

Then, there are the Yankees, currently with 6/1 odds to win it all. Though injuries have plagued them, they still have a formidable roster that will be a tough out in the playoffs. They have the hitter with the best average in the league in DJ LeMahieu who holds a .336 at this point in the year. If they get their power-hitting trio of Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion, and Giancarlo Stanton together and healthy before the end of the year, they could be trouble for any pitcher, even Houston's aces.

Some other contenders

The only other team with odds better than 10/1 are the Braves at 9/1. They currently lead the NL East by seven games, and while their numbers might not jump off the page as much as other teams, they still have a solid rotation including the 12-4 Max Fried and 10-2 Mike Soroka who boasts a 2.37 ERA which is second-best in the league. They also have a potent offense with guys in their lineup like Freddie Freeman who sits tied for fourth in the league in RBIs at 86, along with Ronald Acuna Jr. who sits tied for eleventh in the league in home runs at 27.

Some of the other teams in the American League besides the Yankees that could make it tough to make it to the World Series in the first place are the Twins and the Rays. The Twins continue to give their fans a surprisingly successful season in 2019, currently atop the AL Central by three games. They have done it primarily through their potent offense, who have hammered out a league-best 216 home runs, the only team over 200 so far this year.

The Rays, on the other hand, though they have a great squad of young hitters, rely more heavily on their pitching. They have allowed just 123 home runs this year, the least by any team, along with the sixth-fewest walks, and the third most strikeouts. They're led by former-Astro Charlie Morton who has the second-best ERA in the AL at 2.78, not too far away from Justin Verlander. We will get a preview of what the matchup of Houston and Tampa Bay could look like in the playoffs later this month, as the Rays will come to Houston for a three-game series.

Behind them there are still some teams that could make runs like the Red Sox, who are not living up to their high expectations going into this year, along with the Cardinals, Brewers, and Indians who are still in the mix.

All of these teams are still looking up at Houston, though, as the Astros could and should be the clear favorites against anyone in a seven-game series when they have a healthy roster. They are too powerful and playing too well, right now, to imagine that any other team could beat them on paper. Still, sports rarely pan out like paper would predict, but it should be a fun few months, and upcoming years, to be an Astros fan.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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