Battle plans: How Astros can successfully plot an optimal postseason path

The Astros are back in action on Friday. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

The Astros couldn’t have slammed the door on their fellow American League West contenders this week, but they didn’t have to open the door a bit wider for the Rangers and Mariners. The odds didn’t favor the Astros losing two out of three at home to the woeful Oakland A’s, but que sera sera. That extends the drama about who wins the division. Should the Astros wind up not winning it, their confounding mediocrity at Minute Maid Park this season will be a remembered culprit. A 38-37 home mark simply is not title-worthy. However, their 45-27 road mark certainly is, and they need to tack on several more wins to it, starting with this weekend’s three game set at pathetic Kansas City. At 46-101 the Royals sit a half game worse than the A’s in the “chase” for the worst record in Major League Baseball.

In feebly losing the first two games to Oakland the Astros didn’t choke against the A’s. They merely stunk and were outplayed. It happens. The offense was snuffed in the first loss, Justin Verlander got lit up in the second. That’s not choking, it’s failing. Even had the Astros not salvaged the last game and instead been swept, it wouldn’t have meant they choked. Did the Rangers choke last week in Arlington? Or was it the Astros playing tremendously and kicking the crap out of them three in a row? The concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, but it was much, much more about the Astros putting on a dominant display. The A’s just plain beat the Astros Monday and Tuesday.

As pitiful as the A’s are, they still win more than 30 percent of their games. The Astros are obviously not a great team, they lose more than 40 percent of their games. The won-loss percentage gap between the good and the dregs is much smaller in MLB than it is in the NFL and NBA. It’s just how the sports are. Unless Patrick Mahomes was injured or suddenly retired beforehand, the Texans beating the Chiefs two out of three is inconceivable. The A’s taking two of three from the Astros was surprising and for Astros’ fans exasperating and perhaps a bit unnerving, but it should not have been shocking to anyone. Hence, it would be shame on the Astros if they go into K.C. with any sort of “We’re great on the road, the Royals are lousy, we got this.” mentality.

Credit to the Rangers for responding from the beatdown the Astros put on them. After that the Rangers lost a series opener to the A’s last Friday and were really teetering. They haven’t lost since, taking two from Oakland and then rolling to a four game sweep of a huge series at Toronto. The Mariners meanwhile rebounded from dropping two of three at the crummy Mets and the first of a series with the also-ran Angels to win their last two. So here we are. The Astros enter the weekend one half game ahead of the Rangers (tied in the loss column with the Astros owning the tiebreaker) and a game and a half ahead of the Mariners (one better in the loss column but the Mariners own the tiebreaker). The Rangers are at Cleveland this weekend. Business is business, so if you’re an Astros fan choke down that bile for a “Go Dodgers!” weekend with the Dodgers in Seattle for three. To start next week the Astros are back home (uh oh!) for three vs. the outstanding Orioles, the Rangers are home for the playing out the string Red Sox, the Mariners get three at Oakland.

After that it is fabulously beneficial to the Astros that the Rangers and Mariners have seven head-to-head meetings over the season’s final 10 games. That guarantees that either the Rangers or Mariners lose at least four of them, which makes it highly likely that the Astros at least snag a Wild Card unless the Astros reeeally falter. While the natural focus is on winning the West again, should the Astros falter and finish behind both the Rangers and Mariners, they are not out of the woods from missing the playoffs completely. They are three games ahead of Toronto, though the Blue Jays hold the tiebreaker over the Astros. The Jays’ final 15 games are all within the AL East: six vs. the Rays, six vs. the Yankees, three vs. the Red Sox).

The Astros have virtually no shot at finishing with the best record in the AL. That will belong to the AL East winner, Baltimore or Tampa Bay. The Rays took the opener of a four game series in Maryland Thursday night to get within one game of the Orioles. Just one win gives the Orioles the season series tiebreaker.

Until things are settled, every game is critical, but none more so than the Astros’ three at Seattle September 25-27. Dusty Baker and staff have tweaking to do with the starting rotation if Verlander and Framber Valdez are to make starts in that series. Valdez goes this Sunday in Kansas City. He needs to jump ahead of J.P. France’s turn Friday at MMP vs. the Royals so Framber can have four days rest ahead of starting the series finale against the Mariners the following Wednesday. That would also have Valdez available on three days rest for the regular season finale at Arizona, should game 162 be critical. Verlander’s next scheduled turn is Monday vs. Baltimore. His next start after that should be the following Monday in the opener in Seattle. So the decision needs to be made whether Verlander is better off pitching Monday and not again until the following Monday, or pushing his start vs. the Orioles to Tuesday.

When it comes to the Astros, nobody has you covered like SportsMapHouston!

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up about 4PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets such as:

Apple Podcasts


Google Podcasts





Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM

The Houston Texans have a huge game against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, and they must come away with a victory if they want to avoid falling to 0-3 on the season.

And don't look now, but beating the Jags just got a little more difficult with Aaron Wilson reporting that Derek Stingley Jr is expected to miss multiple weeks with a hamstring injury. Plus, nickel corner Tavierre Thomas will also be out after having surgery on his hand.

The Texans are dealing with a massive amount of injuries just two weeks into the season. But one could argue some of these could have been avoided.

Both Stingley and guard Kenyon Green (IR) had injury concerns coming out of college and GM Nick Caseiro decided to draft them in the top half of the first round, despite those red flags.

Green will miss the rest of the season needing shoulder surgery, and if Stingley is placed on IR and misses 4 games, he will have only played in 11 of a possible 23 games to start his career. Don't forget, Stingley missed time due to a hamstring issue in 2022 as well.

And let's not forget, Caserio passed on All-Pro corner Sauce Gardner, when he decided to draft Stingley No. 3 overall in 2022. The Jets selected Gardner with the very next pick.

Be sure to watch the video above as we discuss the implications of these injuries for the Texans and Caserio's future in Houston.

If you enjoy the videos, subscribe to SportsMap Texans on YouTube for our latest content.

And listen to ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM for Houston's best sports talk.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome