After their 5-2 loss to the Mariners on Friday night the Astros hold a tenuous four and a half game lead over the Oakland A’s and only six games over the M’s. The next 16 games could well be the key stretch for this Astros’ teams attempt to repeat as champs of all of baseball in 2018.
The next 16 games include 11 against the A’s and M’s, the Astros’ closest competitors. This includes five games against the M’s (two at home and three on the road) and six against the A’s (three at home and three on the road). They had a chance to bury the M’s, who were trailing by eight games coming into their four-game set at Minute Maid Park and stumbling badly. But the M’s won the first two games of the series and the best the Astros can hope for is getting back to that eight-game gap by the end of games Sunday.
The Astros are at a critical point as a team. They did get Carlos Correa back on Friday, but they may have lost red-hot Jake Marisnick to a groin injury in the same game. They are also missing two key cogs to the offense in Jose Altuve and George Springer, plus leader Brian McCann, starter Lance McCullers Jr. and late-inning, high leverage reliever Chris Devenski. On top of that Altuve, who was expected to miss minimal time has yet to attempt to run on his injured knee.
The Astros are ripe for the picking in their matchups with their division rivals, who both could catch them with a quick burst while the home team is down.
Not all is gloom and doom with the Astros. Even with a bunch of folks on the DL, they have shown a lot of resiliency in going 6-2 on their recent road trip. But there is almost too much pressure on the pitchers, both starters and bullpen to hold the line at zero in so many of these games.
It would seem to be critical for the Astros to go 6-5 or 5-6 at least against their division rivals and then pick up some wins against the Rockies (2 games) and Angels (3 games) during this tough stretch. If the team could find another gear, they could pull away from both teams in the next fortnight, but holding on for dear life may be the best that can be expected.