ASTROS OUTLOOK

Breaking down what the top seed in the AL will mean for the Astros

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve of the Astros
The playoffs are just around the corner.Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter who predicted 2017 championship says Astros will win World Series

With 31 games remaining in the regular season for the Houston Astros, it appears that they are marching towards finishing as the top team in the AL, which will secure them home-field advantage in the American League side of the postseason. They sit five games ahead of the Yankees, who have inexplicably boarded a struggle train over the last month, which paired with Houston's light schedule may have put them too far back to come back from to grab the top seed.

This year, the playoffs have been expanded, and the top two teams from each league will sit out a Wild Card round before entering the fray for a traditional ALDS against whoever is left standing. A bye is monumentally advantageous, but how has home-field advantage helped the Astros in recent years?

Getting comfortable at home

Of the remaining 31 games, the Astros will play 18 at home. This season so far, they are better at home by the numbers, though they have been successful on the road as well:

Home: 43-20 record, .253 average, .765 OPS, 2.78 ERA

Away: 41-27 record, .240 average, .721 OPS, 3.27 ERA

If the Astros hold on to that best record in the AL come October 5th, when the regular season ends, the American League will run through Minute Maid Park. It's what teams strive for all year long and why the 162-game grind unfolds to make each game meaningful.

It would be and should be a good development for any team, but interestingly, the Astros have not been as dominant at home in the postseason in recent years as you'd expect. Here are their splits for the last three "regular" postseasons (2020 excluded):

2018: 2-3 home, 2-1 away

2019: 5-5 home, 5-3 away

2021: 5-3 home, 4-4 away

That's one losing record, one winning record, one even record at home across the last three years, and a total record of 12-11 over that span. Digging even deeper into this trend, they are 7-0 at home in ALDS rounds, 4-5 in ALCS rounds, and they went a combined 1-6 at home in the 2019 and 2021 World Series. Each year is certainly different, but this shows that while they typically dominate the first round at home, the home-field advantage appears to dissipate when the competition stiffens, and the playoffs lengthen.

Dissecting this even further, here are the home vs. away splits for these same postseasons:

2021

Home: .272 average, .744 OPS, 4.00 ERA

Away: .249 average, .703 OPS, 4.90 ERA

2019

Home: .229 average, .691 OPS, 4.30 ERA

Away: .239 average, .722 OPS, 3.13 ERA

2018

Home: .274 average, .821 OPS, 4.60 ERA

Away: .238 average, .870 OPS, 3.46 ERA

These numbers, for the most part, align with the resulting records of each year, with Houston doing better all-around at home in 2021 but in the other two seeing better performance on the road. Specifically, it's interesting to look at the ERA disparity in 2018 (1.14 runs worse at home) and 2019 (1.17 runs worse at home) and how it transitioned in 2021 (0.90 runs better at home).

Will pitching be the difference in 2022?

The Astros have built and maintained a very potent offensive core for their team during this dynastic stretch of success in recent years. While injuries and cold periods have caused some concern this season, there should be little doubt that Houston can go toe-to-toe with any team when they are at full strength and playing their best, which they tend to do in the playoffs.

So then, what about the pitching staff? Well, the biggest ace up the sleeve for the Astros this year is they actually have two bona fide aces: Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez. Verlander's current injury aside, he is in line to take down another Cy Young Award unless the situation worsens or he completely falls off when he returns.

While it would take a few different scenarios to play out a certain way, even if Verlander didn't win it, the Astros could still see the award come home to Houston with Valdez, who has put together a tremendous stretch of 22 quality starts, the most by a lefty in MLB history. He has blossomed into one of the league's best arms, and having him at that level in the postseason behind Verlander should be as good of a 1-2 punch you could hope for when going to a four-man rotation in the playoffs.

Valdez has, though, done slightly worse at home this season than on the road (3.27 ERA vs. 2.24). However, he currently lines up to have most of his remaining starts at Minute Maid Park to help improve those numbers and get him even more comfortable with the confines of the home ballpark, where he will likely take the ball for Game 2 of the ALDS and hopefully for Houston, in the ALCS and World Series as well.

All told, despite aggregating data that is comprised of an extended cast of players over recent years, it's about this team and this time. With their current performance helping cruise them to another 100-win season, having to overcome some historical struggles at home in big games should be easily attainable and is why the Astros are currently one of the highest favored teams to win it all.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Rockets fall to the Mavericks. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

Luka Doncic had 41 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and the Dallas Mavericks prevented the Houston Rockets from advancing to the quarterfinals of the NBA In-Season Tournament with a 121-115 victory on Tuesday night.

Kyrie Irving added 22 of his 27 points in the second half for the Mavericks, who had already been eliminated. Their victory allowed the New Orleans Pelicans to win Group B in the Western Conference with a 3-1 record.

Doncic fell just short of his 59th career triple-double. That would have tied him for ninth place all-time with Larry Bird. He shot 15 of 29, 3 of 10 on 3-pointers.

“Sometimes we take him for granted, and we shouldn’t,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “He’s about winning, but it just so happens he’s a walking triple-double.

”The Mavericks, who trailed by nine points in the third quarter, grabbed the lead for good at 99-98 with 6:25 to play on a drive by Irving. Leading 103-100 with 5:25 left, they went on an 8-2 run that included three free throws by Derrick Jones Jr. when he was fouled by Dillon Brooks on a 25-footer with the shot clock about to expire.

Jabari Smith Jr.’s 3-pointer with 8 seconds left pulled the Rockets within 119-115 before Dallas closed it out.

Doncic played after sustaining a low-grade sprain of his left thumb on his non-shooting hand early in Saturday’s game. He wore a wrap on the thumb.

Doncic made a hook shot from the free throw line after recovering a loose ball near the baseline.

“I’m 2 for 2 in my career on the hooks,” Doncic said, saying the other came while playing for the Slovenian national team against Sweden.

Irving shot 2 for 11 in the first half, 1 for 5 on 3-pointers, with no free-throw attempts. He was 6 for 11 in the second half, hitting 1 of 2 behind the arc, and sank all nine free throws.

“I told the team, ‘Played well enough to win, not smart enough to win,’” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “We were extra-aggressive, especially at the end of the third quarter. Had multiple players make a few dumb fouls, put Kyrie at the line and got him going when he didn’t have a lot going. You can be aggressive, obviously, but slapping somebody on a 3-point shot on the arm is an unintelligent play. It has nothing to do with aggression.”

Alperen Sengun had a season-best 31 points for the Rockets, who had six scorers in double figures. Fred VanVleet had 10 points and 12 assists.

The Rockets have lost all six of their road games this season. They went into play leading the NBA by allowing an average of 104.4 points per game.

The Mavericks didn’t use the specially built court for either of their home tournament games, citing dissatisfaction with the quality.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Will finish a back-to-back at Denver on Wednesday.

Mavericks: Host Memphis on Friday.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome