Here's a realistic path for Houston Astros to snatch division crown

The biggest series of the season starts Friday night. Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images.

The Astros’ four game series in Arlington this weekend is by far their most important series of the season to date. The Astros sit five games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West after Meat Loafing it in St. Louis (two out of three ain’t bad!) while the Rangers were settling for a split of four games at home vs. the lowly Detroit Tigers. The Astros have 81 games down, 81 to go. Their 44-37 record has them equidistant from the Rangers and fourth place Mariners, making for a disappointing but nowhere near disastrous first half. Disappointing more so given the Astros’ standards over the last six years. Injuries have hurt, but the Astros’ have had no monopoly on injury issues. The Yankees have been hit harder. The Rays’ pitching staff has been hit harder than the Astros’ staff.

Not improving in the second half would probably mean no postseason play for the first time since 2016. You no doubt have seen a movie that started sluggishly but once it hit its stride, wow! On the other hand, some movies never deliver the goods. We'll see how the Astros' final cut rates. All their goals remain obtainable. Well, probably not best record in the American League with the Astros entering the weekend 10 and a half games behind the Rays.

As the Astros fully intend to successfully defend their division crown, they better at minimum split these four games with the Rangers. Obviously a sweep would be awesome for the Astros, drawing them within one game of the lead. Take three out of four to get within three games, fine and dandy. A split to hold five back would not be optimal, but definitely would keep the Astros within solid striking distance, especially with the Astros having the easier schedule through the first week and a half out of the All-Star break before they get the Rangers at Minute Maid Park in late-July. Lose three out of four at Globe Life Field to fall seven games off the pace and the Astros are about as likely to miss the playoffs as to win the division. Get swept four? Naaaaaaaah.

Chasing 100

A reminder (especially for those thinking the Astros' 44-37 first half was horrible) that as this platinum era of Astros’ baseball launched in 2017, that World Series-winning team played exactly .500 ball over a 74 game stretch. The '17 'Stros exploded from the gate with a 42-16 run of dominance. After acquiring Justin Verlander in the nick of time at the trade deadline the Astros closed with a 22-8 spurt. In between 42-16 and 22-8, 37-37. In a 162 game season 100 wins requires a .617 winning percentage. A 100 win team doesn’t win at a .617 clip every month. The 2023 Astros are near dead in the water with regard to being a 100 win team for the fifth time in the last six full seasons, unless you think 56-25 is plausible the rest of the way. That they win 50 games in the second half is not likely but clearly feasible, which would get them to 94 victories, a definite playoff spot and quite possibly another AL West title.

Who deserves to be in the All-Star Game?

It’s one thing to be a diehard fan, it’s another to be silly. Most teams do similar stuff, but honestly, it should be embarrassing for all parties involved that the Astros encouraged people to vote Martin Maldonado and Jose Abreu as American League All-Stars. If in an absurd outcome they had been elected, it would only have called rightful attention to how bad they’ve been this season, though Abreu has surged to life. As for non-goofy voting, with the time that he has missed it is not a snub that Yordan Alvarez was not voted a starter. Even with zero chance he’ll play in the game, Alvarez does deserve the honor of reserve selection. Framber Valdez obviously belongs on the AL pitching staff.

Despite bloated All-Star rosters at 32 players per league, Alvarez and Valdez are the only deserving Astros. Cristian Javier was in the hunt but has been lousy in three of his last four starts and is not presently close to being one of the eight best starting pitchers in the AL this season (eight starters and four relievers get picked). Hector Neris and Phil Maton have been excellent but as non-closers are not top four relievers. Kyle Tucker is having a good season, but definitely has not been a top six AL outfielder worthy of a second straight All-Star selection.

Let's have a reality check on the notion that Mauricio Dubon should be an All-Star second baseman. If he is added it’s a great story for him but more testament to the overall lackluster batch of second basemen performances in the American League. Dubon has been terrific for what expectations about him were going into this season. Still, it’s not as if Dubon has been exceptional. His defense has been strong, in fact it seems clear he is a better glove man than Jose Altuve at this point. But Dubon is a below average offensive player. His .286 batting average sounds good, but a woeful eight walks drawn in 259 plate appearances means his on-base percentage is a not good .309, his OPS an underwhelming .716. Also of significance, Dubon has started only 46 games at second base, just 57 percent of the schedule.

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The Houston Astros are coming off a big win over the Orioles and hopefully things are getting back on track as the club makes their final push for the playoffs with only nine games left.

While we're all excited about the latest walk-off win, we can't ignore the fact that the team has dropped three straight series. Two of which were against the two worst teams in baseball (the Royals and A's).

We've all heard the reports about Chas McCormick's playing time, the batter's eye in center field causing the Astros to struggle, and three team meetings over the past month.

With that in mind, are these distractions a factor in how the team is performing on the field?

Be sure to watch the video as we break it all down.

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