Let’s put all the Astros remaining playoff scenarios under the microscope

Let’s put all the Astros remaining playoff scenarios under the microscope

The Astros host the Royals at Minute Maid this weekend. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Here's everything you need to know about Astros Opening Day 2023
  • What a two-front battle to the finish for the Astros. And Rangers. And Mariners. Compelling stuff as the American League West and Wild Card races steam toward conclusion. We’re down to this weekend and then the final week of the regular season with it a certainty that two of the three make the playoffs. The third could make half the American League playoff field from the AL West, or miss the postseason and rue a blown opportunity.

Since finally grabbing first place for themselves with their three game baseball dismemberment of the Rangers earlier this month, the Astros have not played like a playoff team. Some would say the way they’ve played of late the Astros don’t deserve to make the playoffs. That is nonsense. All teams know the rules of engagement. 162 games count in the standings. If at the close of play a week from Sunday the Astros finish ahead of the Rangers, Mariners, or Blue Jays, they will deserve to make the playoffs. Even better, they would make the playoffs.

During their recent swoon the Astros have not been choking. Too often they’ve been stinking. Big difference, considering that calling an athlete a “choker” is about the harshest criticism one can spew. Did Alex Bregman choke with his costly throwing error on a double play ball last weekend in Kansas City? Did Ryan Pressly choke when he blew the save and game Monday night against Baltimore? Did Yordan Alvarez choke when he had four feeble at bats against the Orioles Tuesday? Is Kyle Tucker choking because he is batting .210 in September? Is Jose Altuve choking when he makes one of his too frequent confounding baserunning mistakes? No, no, no, no, and no. Failure is not automatically choking. Sometimes you just don’t play well. Also relevant, this isn’t golf where it’s the player against the course. In a team sport the opposition can just outplay you. Choking happens but it is too readily blamed for losing.

Bad teams can win short series from good teams, and the Astros reminded everyone of that by dropping consecutive series to the sad sack Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals. If this weekend they lose another series to the lowly Royals at Minute Maid Park, boooooo! I grant that would at least seem like choking. It would also mean the Astros finish the season with a losing record at Minute Maid Park. The Astros would also then be inviting the Mariners to put them to sleep in the AL West race in the massive three game series that opens Monday in Seattle. On the flip side, the Astros can make it easy on themselves by sweeping the Royals then winning at least two out of three over the Mariners.

While the Astros get the Royals this weekend, the Mariners are in Arlington for three against the Rangers. Texas and Seattle close the regular season with four more meetings next weekend in the “Emerald City” while the Astros will be in Arizona against a Diamondbacks’ team that presently holds the number two Wild Card position in the National League. Let’s say the Astros sweep three from K.C. (obviously not close to a given), then lose two of three at both Seattle and Arizona. That would be a 5-4 close resulting in a 90-72 record. Good news: either the Rangers or Mariners must lose at least four of their seven matchups. Bad news: either the Rangers or Mariners must win at least four of those matchups.

If the Rangers sweep the three-game series they have at the Angels and go 3-4 vs. the Mariners, the Rangers finish 90-72. In this scenario the Mariners would also finish 90-72. Three-way tie! The Mariners would win the division based on having the best combined record against the other two. The Astros would then get a Wild Card over the Rangers by winning the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Rangers would then need to finish at least tied with Toronto. The Rangers have the tiebreaker over the Blue Jays. So do the Mariners. The Astros lose the tiebreaker to the Jays. Unless the Astros sweep the Mariners next week, the Astros can only win the three-way division tiebreaker if the Rangers win exactly four of their seven games against the Mariners.

As suggested in this column last week, the Astros have properly altered their starting rotation ahead of the Mariners series. Justin Verlander goes in the opener Monday with Framber Valdez in the Wednesday finale. Verlander has been pretty average since rejoining the Astros with four good starts, three poor starts and two middling starts, adding up to a 3.93 earned run average. Still, there is zero question that if an Astros’ fan you’d rather see Verlander starting than J.P. France or Hunter Brown. Cristian Javier goes in the Tuesday game.

There are times in life when you will or you won’t, you do or you don’t. If the Astros win enough of their final nine games, they have a shot to defend their World Series championship. If not, quite an interesting offseason gets a surprisingly early start.

Looking for more Astros coverage?

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 at 4PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets such as:

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Will all the Texans playmakers be satisfied with their roles in the offense? Composite Getty Image.

ESPN Texans reporter DJ Bien-Aime joined The Mina Kimes Show this weekand shared his thoughts on the Texans outlook this season.

When looking at the Texans offense, Bien-Aime pointed to Houston's play calling as being a possible issue in 2024. Bobby Slowik did a terrific job in his first season as an offensive coordinator. But he will have his hands full keeping all his playmakers happy with Stefon Diggs joining the team, and Nico Collins expecting a ton of looks after signing a massive contract extension.

Which got us thinking, are there enough catches to go around?

We took a deep dive into the 2023 numbers and here's what we found. CJ Stroud averaged 21 completions per game. And here's a breakdown of how many catches his receivers averaged last year.

Nico Collins 5.3 catches per game

Stefon Diggs (with Buffalo) 6.29 catches per game

Dalton Schultz 3.93 catches per game

Tank Dell 4.27 catches per game

Texans running backs 3.05 catches per game

If we add those up, the total is 22.84. Which means the Texans top receivers should expect a similar amount of production compared to last season. Of course, players like Noah Brown, Robert Woods, and Brevin Jordan will take targets away from Stefon Diggs and company from time to time.

But it's good to know that the Texans top pass catchers should produce numbers close to their 2023 averages. Which is a big deal for a player in a contract year like Diggs.

Another thing to note. We're factoring in that the Texans are expected to run out of 11 personnel most of the time. Which means Diggs, Collins, Dell, Schultz, and Mixon will be the only pass catchers on the field the majority of the time.

Are there concerns about the defense?

Both Kimes and Bien-Aime designated Houston's secondary as the big x-factor this year. Bien-Aime named cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. as the only player in the secondary that he truly trusts. Is he right?

Be sure to watch the video above as we react to Kimes and Bien-Aime's outlook for the Texans this year, and share our thoughts on the possible pitfalls the team will have to navigate in the short and long-term.

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