These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.
Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?
Affecting the NL playoffs
It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.
Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.
As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.
They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.
It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.
Affecting the AL playoffs
There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.
Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.
So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.
This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.
Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.
So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.
After a quiet offseason the Houston Astros finally made some moves this week to bolster their roster by adding backup catcher Victor Caratini in free agency.
The club also acquired some bullpen help by trading for Royals reliever Dylan Coleman.
Astros GM Dana Brown also garnered a lot of attention this week by proclaiming Jake Meyers will get an opportunity to be the everyday starter in center field.
And while the Astros have been connected to several free agent relief pitchers by various media outlets, it appears Houston isn't looking to spend much money.
On the other hand, the Yankees went out and traded for superstar outfielder Juan Soto, and have shot past the Astros when it comes to World Series odds.
Which begs the question, have the Astros done enough to compete with the Yankees in 2024?
To be fair, we've seen this movie before. The Yankees historically out spend every team, but they've been a little more conservative over the last few years.
But now, they look like the Yankees of old when it comes to payroll.
Plus, we heard rumors a few weeks ago that the Astros might be looking to trade Jake Meyers. And now all of a sudden he's getting the first crack at the starting job in center?
Could this be a smoke screen from Dana Brown to try to elevate his trade value? We've seen the Astros value defense in center field before, they let George Springer walk and replaced him with Myles Straw.
Be sure to watch the video above as we decipher what the Astros are really trying to accomplish this offseason, and successful they can be in the AL in 2024.