Astros bitten by the dog days, now being dealt a lucky hand
Lately the Astros have been putting the dog in the dog days of summer, blowing games they should have won, resting players in bunches, some missing time with unlucky injuries, others whiffing on pitches three feet off the plate (we’re looking at you, Jeremy Pena), and Dusty Baker filling out lineup cards by throwing darts at a wall.
Not to worry. The Astros are comfortably in first place, they have the best record in the American League, they’re leading their division by 11-1/2 and, most important, they’re not the Yankees. Feeling sorry for the Yankees who are sinking fast in the east? Nope.
While the Astros are playing lackluster ball heading into September, here comes Mr. Schedule Maker to save the day – and the season.
The Astros have 39 games left this season. That’s 13 series. They will play only one team that, if the season ended today, would be in MLB’s expanded playoffs.
There’s nothing wrong with the Astros that a schedule loaded with the Twins, Orioles, Rangers, Angels, Tigers, Diamondbacks and Phillies won’t cure. The only Astros opponent currently in the playoff picture is Tampa Bay. If the Astros can stay even half awake, they will waltz into the post-season with a first-round bye.
When the season ends, the Astros will have played the Rangers, Angels, Mariners, and A’s 19 games each. That’s 76 games, practically half the season, against divisional, well, we can’t really call them rivals. The Astros own the American League West.
The A’s have the worst record in the American League. Both the Angels and Rangers fired their managers during the season. The Mariners hold the distinction of being the team in America’s four major sports with the longest playoff drought. The last time the Mariners sniffed the post-season was 2021.
It’s a suck division, all right. What are the Astros even doing there? The Astros don’t have a despised nemesis in the AL West. Nobody gives a hoot about the Silver Boot non-rivalry with the Texas Rangers.
The Astros real arch enemy is the Yankees. Yankees fans despise the Astros. Astros fans relish victories over the New Yorkers, especially in the post-season.
If divisional play is supposed to create natural geographic rivalries, it’s not even close. Houston is closer to New York (1,628 miles) than to Oakland (1,914 miles) or Seattle (2,335 miles).
The Astros are eighth in MLB attendance this year, averaging 33,351 fans per game. The Dodgers are first, averaging 48,145. The Yankees are averaging 39,495. The Dodgers get to host the star-studded but troubled Padres and longtime foe Giants. The Yankees welcome the Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles (all with winning records) and their bitter enemy Red Sox.
Imagine the sold-out crowds at Minute Maid Park if the Dodgers or Yankees were in town on a consistent basis. And the Astros weren’t burdened with the Mariners, A’s, Angels and Rangers over and over.
Fortunately, Mr. Schedule Maker is reducing the number of games that teams play divisional opponents next year. The Astros will play AL West teams only 14 times, which will free up at least one series against every other MLB team.
So the Astros get to play the Dodgers and Yankees and Braves and Mets and Rays and Cardinals and Cubs every year from now on. And not so many against the distant A’s and Mariners. It’s about time … and geography.