PHOTO FINISH

All the undeniable reasons Astros playoff push hits different this year

The race for the AL West crown will go down to the wire. Composite Getty Image.

It was Branch Rickey who said that “Baseball is a game of inches.” A seeing-eye single that eludes both the third baseman and shortstop. A home run that nicks the foul pole. An errant throw that just barely pulls the first baseman off the bag.

But as Astros fans realized Thursday morning, baseball also is a game of percentage points. The ESPN scroll said, “Mariners and Astros remain tied for first place in the American League West.”

Well, yes and no. Because teams don’t play the same number of games by certain dates on the calendar, technically (more mathematically) the Seattle Mariners are in first place by themselves and the Astros are trailing in second place.

By one measly, stinkin’ percentage point. That's a difference usually reserved for bobsled racing and mortgage rate hikes.

If you could somehow put the Hubble Telescope inside the Mount Palomar Telescope, the Astros and Mariners would still look tied for first place in the whisper-close American League West – the tightest division in MLB with its three top teams separated by only one game. Don’t forget about the Texas Rangers sitting alone in third place, one game out.

The Mariners are 76-57, good for a .571 percentage. The Astros are 77-58, good for a .570 percentage. You’d have to squint to see the space between them. The Astros and Mariners both will finish with 162 games in the books, but if somehow the season were to end today, the Mariners would get the first-round bye in the playoffs, while the Astros would have to play a best-of-three wild card series that eats up pitching.

There is a silver lining to the Astros finding themselves in an uncustomary close race for the division lead. September starts Friday and the Astros schedule is packed with meaningful, potentially nerve-racking games that should keep fans’ eyes glued to the out-of-town scoreboard. That’s something relatively new around here.

Since 2017 when the Astros won their first World Series and their dynasty began, the Astros have made a mockery of September. In the past five full MLB seasons, the Astros won the American League West by a runaway 16 games in 2022, by five games in 2021, by 10 games in 2019, six games in 2018, and a crazy 21 games in 2017.

Consider this, after a shaky 3-6 start to the season, the Houston Astros haven't spent one day in sole possession of first place this year.

There’s nothing like a tight pennant race to keep the home ballpark filled right to the end of the season. Remember how devastating it was when the Mariners showed up Aug. 18-20 and swept the Astros at Minute Maid Park? Or when the Astros went up to Boston this week and dispatched the Red Sox three straight?

Well, strap yourselves in for September when the Astros host the dreaded Yankees this weekend at Minute Maid, then travel to Arlington for three games against the Rangers next week, and visit Seattle for a three-game showdown on Sept. 25-27. The Astros finish at home on Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Every game from here on out could mean the difference between winning the American League West pennant and finishing second or even third.

It’s going to be fun and, sure, at some moments excruciating. Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Not here. We’re on the triumph train at Minute Maid Park.

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After another poor performance from former Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns' season is starting to look like an uphill climb. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb is out for the year, and Cleveland fans aren't too pleased with the way Watson is playing, especially considering the massive contract extension he signed with the team. And we didn't even get to the off the field drama that comes with Watson.

However, Houston fans are invested in the Browns' season outcome as well, with the Texans holding the Browns' first round pick in 2024, and having sent their own first rounder to the Cardinals in the Will Anderson trade.

So each loss for the Browns, means a better draft pick for the Texans!

For Houston, it looks like they have their QB of the future in CJ Stroud. And he'll be on a less expensive rookie contract for the next several years, giving the Texans more cap space to upgrade the roster.

With all of this in mind, is it fair to question if the Texans dodged a bullet when Watson demanded a trade?

DeMeco Ryans vs. Lovie Smith

Plus, we're only two games into the season, but Lovie Smith's defense was much better (with a similar roster) than what DeMeco Ryans' defense has shown thus far, and DeMeco has the benefit of Will Anderson rushing the QB.

Are the struggles on defense more about the roster GM Nick Caserio has put together, or does this slow start fall on DeMeco?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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