CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

In spite of everything, the Astros are still close to the World Series

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Allsport/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is set to announce its post-season schedule and stadiums … and Houston is in the mix!

Unfortunately, MLB is talking about Houston, the city, as in Minute Maid Park. After the first-round of wild card series, the National League playoffs will resume at Minute Maid Park and Globe Life Field in Arlington.

Meanwhile, American League playoff games will pick up at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego. The idea is to play post-season games at neutral sites. The World Series will be played at Globe Life Field. MLB plans to create bubbles in Houston, Arlington, Los Angeles and San Diego, similar to what the NBA is doing in Orlando.

Arlington was selected to host the World Series for several reasons, not the least being Arlington is in the Central time zone, which would provide optimum TV ratings.

Will Houston, as in the Astros, be part of post-season play? Two weeks ago, the Astros were battling the Oakland A's for first place in the American League West. The only question was, will the Astros finish first or second in the division. Their chances of qualifying for the playoffs all but assured. The Astros were shooting for their fourth consecutive division crown.

Two weeks later, the Astros are swirling down the drain with a gloomy, sub-.500 record, and losers of nine of their last eleven games. The Astros' California dreamin' has turned into a nightmare.

Houston's lead over the red-hot, surging Seattle Mariners has dwindled to a measly one and a half games. As the American League's two wildcard teams most likely will come from the East or Central divisions, the Astros are scratching and clawing for their playoff lives.

With the Astros' season on the brink, fans were surprised and disappointed that the team failed to add a first-rate pitcher or power hitter before the trade deadline.

Still there are embers of hope for the Astros as ailing stars slowly return to active duty. The biggest reason to stay the course is courtesy of Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Justin Verlander, who threw a bullpen session during the Oakland series. Manager Dusty Baker said it's possible that Verlander could take the mound for real this season.

All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman and reliable reliever Brad Peacock already are back from the injured list. Jose Altuve should return in coming weeks. Jose Urquidy had a quality start against the A's.

The Astros have been bedeviled with injuries, with Verlander, Peacock, Blake Taylor, Roberto Osuna, Josh James, Chris Devenski, George Springer and Lance McCullers all missing games. Last year's Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez played only two games before waving bye-bye for the season.

Despite the trials and travails, the injuries and bad breaks, let's remember that the Astros are up on the Mariners for a playoff spot. It's still better to be the Astros than the Mariners. And if the Astros continue to struggle and aren't competing for another title this year, they will be close to the World Series. This time, however, it would only be due to proximity.

Of course, things could also change in a hurry. Just five days ago the Astros had the best AL Title odds according to Baseball Reference. If the Astros string some wins together, things could shift dramatically.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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